Getting a colonoscopy may not be on the forefront of most people’s “to do” list, but the procedure can produce lifesaving results, especially for patients with a family history of gastrointestinal problems.
Ochsner Medical Center staff gastroenterologist Dr. Sean Connolly said the minimally invasive procedure can reduce the chances of a patient developing cancer or other colorectal disorders.
“A screening colonoscopy is probably the best test to detect and remove colon polyps,” Dr. Connolly said. “Results from the National Polyp Study Workgroup cohort study showed that a colonoscopy with removal of identified polyps reduced the incidence of colorectal cancer 76 to 90 percent.”
Colorectal cancer was the fifth leading cause of cancer in the United States in 2009 with an estimated 146,970 new cases and was the second leading cause of cancer deaths with approximately 49,920 people dying of the disease last year.
Colonoscopies are incredibly important diagnostic and therapeutic procedures since a doctor can identify cancer-causing polyps and remove them during the same procedure, Dr. Connolly said.
But since colonoscopies require extensive preparation, many people can be hesitant to schedule a screening even though average-risk people age 50 or older are advised to have a colonoscopy every 10 years. The new guidelines from the American College of Gastroenterology recommend that colorectal cancer screenings begin at age 45 for average-risk African American men and women.
“The most difficult part of a colonoscopy is the bowl prep,” he said. “You have to be on a restricted diet the day before the test, and you usually have to consume a half-gallon or a gallon of purge liquid to clean out all of the stool in your colon, which is actually the most difficult part.”
But this can really pay off, especially if you have any of a number of risk factors that can greatly increase the chances of cancerous polyps forming.
“Adenomatous polyps, on average, are found about 25 percent of the time in men over the age of 50 and about 15 percent of the time in women,” he said. “Anybody who has ever had colorectal cancer before, or has ever had an adenomatous polyp or long standing inflammatory bowel disease, or if you’ve ever had a first-degree or second-degree family member with colorectal cancer or an advanced adenomatous polyp, then you’re at an increased risk.”
Regardless of the hurdles, Dr. Connolly said that a screening colonoscopy is the preferred colon cancer prevention test by the American College of Gastroenterology.
“Anyone who has not had a colorectal cancer screening or is not in a surveillance program and is age 50 or older, or African American and age 45 or older, or any age with one or more risk factors should consult with their doctor about colorectal cancer screening options.”
To learn more about colonoscopies, click here.