Don’t Put Off Your Colonoscopy

Apr 25, 2019 | Colonoscopy

Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. Formerly, it was thought of as a disease that affected mainly older patients, those 50 and over. Typical screening guidelines recommended men and women should schedule their first colonoscopy at the age of 50, but with the recent rise of colon cancer cases in younger patients, the screening guidelines dropped to 45 in May 2018. If colon cancer is discovered early, it is very treatable, so it’s best not to put off your colonoscopy if you’re due for your first screening or an updated one. Read on to learn about the warning signs of colon cancer, more about screening guidelines, and when you should talk to your doctor.

Screening and Survival Rates

Colon cancer begins in the colon as tiny growths called polyps. At the outset, some of these polyps are benign but may grow into cancerous polyps over time. The discovery of polyps during a colonoscopy is cause for concern, but one of the best things about colonoscopy is that not only can it detect colon cancer, but it can also treat it on the spot. Using the colonoscope, the doctor can remove precancerous or cancerous polyps during the procedure. This is why colonoscopy is the gold standard when it comes to colonoscopy screening, and also why it’s imperative not to skip it.

It’s estimated that if colon cancer is discovered during stage I, the survival rate is about 90 percent at the five-year mark. However, if colon cancer is discovered at stage III or higher, survival rates sharply drop, as low as 12 percent. A screening colonoscopy does a great job of finding polyps and colorectal cancer early, and it is typically covered completely by insurance. Each patient should talk to their insurance company individually, however, prior to scheduling screening.

Early Warning Signs

Another issue with colon cancer is the fact that symptoms can appear mild and also mimic the symptoms of other gastrointestinal problems. The thing to remember with GI upset and problems is to contact your doctor if the symptoms persist more than a couple of days. Some of the beginning warning signs of colon cancer include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation (though not usually with constipation)
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Blood in the stool

Many of the above symptoms are also similar to other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and it’s easy to be misdiagnosed based on symptoms alone. However, colonoscopy will always show the presence of polyps, cancer, or precancerous activity.

Early Screening and Prevention

When it comes to the risks of developing colon cancer, there are some risk factors you have no control over, such as your genetics, family history, or heritage. If you have a first-degree relative with a history of colon cancer or polyps, you should let your doctor know as soon as possible. This may qualify you for earlier screening. Also, African-Americans and those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent have higher rates of colon cancer. Inherited syndromes such as Lynch syndrome are also linked with colorectal problems.

There are some risk factors you can change, however. Obesity, leading a sedentary lifestyle, and being overweight are all linked to higher incidence of colon cancer. Patients are advised to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly for prevention. Also, smoking, red meat consumption, and the overconsumption of alcohol are strongly linked to colon cancer cases. Patients should quit smoking, curtail their drinking, and limit their red and processed meat consumption. If you are having difficulty losing weight, quitting smoking, or cutting back on drinking, your doctor can help you.

If you need more information about colon cancer, risks, and symptoms, or would like to schedule your first colonoscopy screening, book an appointment with Gastroenterology Consultants of Savannah today. We offer six convenient locations to provide you and your family with the best of GI care.