Colon cancer happens to be the third most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in the United States, excluding skin cancers. Adding to this alarming fact is that approximately 1 in 20 adults develop colon cancer, but fortunately the number has been dropping for the past 20 years. If one were forced to pick a single factor contributing to the decline of this deadly cancer, the development of the colonoscopy would likely top the list. A colonoscopy is a thorough colon cancer screening test that is capable of not only spotting, but removing pre-cancerous polyps before they have a chance to become damaging. While there are a number of other colon cancer screening tests available, fecal blood occult test and sigmoidoscopy among them, the colonoscopy is the most thorough of all.
Gastroenterology, the field of medicine concerning the digestive system and its associated disorders, has made some great strides over the past few years. Currently, there are well over a million survivors of colon cancer in the United States, a testament not only to doctors practicing gastroenterology, but also the effectiveness of a colonoscopy.
Any individual over the age of 50 should schedule a colonoscopy, even earlier if you’re aware of a family history of colon cancer or if you have any gastrointestinal condition such as Crohn’s Disease or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The general rule of thumb for colon cancer is that the earlier you’re screened for it, the better your chances are of preventing the cancer from developing. A doctor specializing in the field of gastroenterology will be able to perform the colonoscopy, with a bit of prep work on your part.
The screening test requires an individual to prepare for the test by emptying their bowels prior to testing. This consists of ceasing to eat solid foods 1-2 days prior to the test, and only drinking clear liquids. Not only that, but the preparation generally requires the individual to drink at least 4 gallons of laxatives. Failure to properly prepare for the test may necessitate taking it over again. Oftentimes, people will claim that the most uncomfortable part of all is this initial preparatory phase.
Once prepared, the doctor will sedate the patient and insert a colonoscope, a long, thin, flexible tube equipped with a camera and the capability to remove polyps, into the patient’s rectum and work up through the small intestine. There’s a chance that during this process the doctor will notice polyps, in which case a polypectomy will be performed in order to remove it. Patients generally report little to no discomfort during this process since they are under sedation.
As gastroenterology continues to advance and develop, the hope is that increasingly fewer people will be victims of colon cancer. As for now, a colonoscopy is absolutely the most comprehensive and efficient test an individual can take. With over 5% of Americans being diagnosed with colon cancer, it’s imperative that you take the time to find a nearby gastroenterologist who can perform the procedure for you.