Prevention is the key to avoiding serious health conditions, and nowhere is this more apt than when it comes to colon cancer. Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine, and it develops from growths within the wall of the intestine, such as polyps or tumors. Colon cancer is the second most common cancer in the United States. Thankfully, it is a slow growing form of cancer that is very treatable if diagnosed in its early stages. That is why it is important to have regular screenings for colon cancer once you reach a certain age, which is 50 for most people.
Three Types Colon Cancer Screenings:
- The first method our Beverly Hills gastroenterologists utilize to screen for colon cancer is a stool test to check the bowel movements for blood.
- The second screening method is a sigmoidoscopy exam, which looks at the lower part of the colon.
- The third option is a colonoscopy. It is similar to a sigmoidoscopy but with one important difference: the entire colon can be viewed during a colonoscopy making it the most effective colon cancer screening method.
Symptoms of Colon Cancer include:
- Change in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation or change in stool consistency)
- Blood in stools
- Persistent cramps, gas or abdominal pain
- Rectal bleeding
- Weakness or fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
Unfortunately, many of these symptoms are not present in the early stages of colon cancer, and it can be hard to know if you’re just experiencing some digestive upset, or symptoms of cancer. This lack of transparency confirms the importance of scheduling a regular colonoscopy screening with a GI doctor. Thanks to colonoscopies and other diagnostic screening methods, a gastroenterologist can find the most common symptom of possible early stage colon cancer: polyps.
A polyp is a growth in the large intestines and can often be found during a colonoscopy or upper GI endoscopy. Polyps can vary in size and shape. While not all polyps are cancerous, they are typically considered to be pre-cancerous growths because if they are not removed, they can lead to colon cancer. That is why it is so very necessary to schedule a screening with a GI doctor when you reach the at-risk age.
How to Prevent Colon Cancer
Colon cancer affects about one in 20 men and women in the United States. There are simple things you can do every day and others your doctor will recommend to decrease your chances of getting colon cancer.
- Get colon cancer screenings. Colon screenings can often find polyps that can be removed before they turn cancerous, as well as early onset cancer.
- Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains have been linked to a lower risk of colon cancer. Also, aim to eat less red meat and processed foods.
- Exercise regularly. Getting regular exercise will help to reduce your risk of colon cancer. Aim for vigorous exercise at least three times a week.
- Keep a healthy weight. Being overweight significantly increases your risks of developing colon cancer.
- Quit smoking. Long-term smokers are more likely to get and die from colon cancer than non-smokers.
- Drink less alcohol. Heavy alcohol consumption has been linked to colon cancer, and other health conditions. Minimize your drinking to no more than 2 drinks per day for men, and 1 drink per day for women.
What is a Colonoscopy?
Colonoscopy is the endoscopic examination of the large intestine and the distal part of the small bowel. It provides a visual diagnosis and grants the opportunity to find ulcers, colon polyps, tumors, and areas of inflammation or bleeding.
During a colonoscopy, a flexible tube is inserted into the anus that is fitted with a small camera that is used to examine the full length of the colon. Patients are sedated during a colonoscopy and do not feel the procedure. If the doctor finds any polyps or other suspicious growths during the colonoscopy, they can remove those growths during the procedure. If any growths are detected and removed, you will continue seeing your gastroenterologists to keep a watchful eye for any new growths. Doctors can also insert instruments through the tube channel to take tissue samples (biopsies).
A colonoscopy can be used to:
- Collect tissue samples
- Take out abnormal growths
- Screen test to check for cancer
- Screen test to check for precancerous growths in the colon or rectum
A colonoscopy offers many benefits, and these include:
- Colon Cancer Detection: During a colonoscopy, a gastroenterologist uses an in-depth evaluation to help a patient identify colon cancer. If colon cancer is found, a gastroenterologist and patient can work together to address this issue.
- Polyp Removal: A colonoscopy enables a gastroenterologist to identify suspicious polyps and remove them. That way, a patient can eliminate the risk that these polyps could develop into colon cancer.
- Colitis Diagnosis: Colitis, chronic inflammation of the colon, is a serious problem that may cause abdominal pain, cramping and diarrhea. With a colonoscopy, a gastroenterologist can diagnose colitis and work with a patient to create an effective treatment program.
- Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis Diagnosis: Diverticulosis and diverticulitis refer to inflammation or infection of small pouches (diverticula) that form on the walls of the intestines. A colonoscopy allows a gastroenterologist to identify diverticulosis and diverticulitis and determine the best ways to treat these issues.
- Bleeding Lesion Detection: Sometimes, bleeding lesions may develop in certain areas of the colon. Thanks to a colonoscopy, a gastroenterologist can examine a patient’s colon from the rectum to the cecum (pouch that connects the junction between the small and large intestines) and identify bleeding lesions.
Candidates for Colonoscopy
Men and women 50 years old and older should have a colonoscopy every 10 years; however, the risk for colon cancer is greater amongst African Americans, so African American men and women should begin colon cancer screenings at the age of 45. Anyone with a family history of colon cancer should also start having regular colonoscopies at the age of 45.
If you are due for a colonoscopy, call La Peer to schedule your colon cancer screening appointment.
Preparing for a Colonoscopy
Before a colonoscopy, you’ll need to clean out your colon of any food and residue that can obstruct the view of the colon during the procedure. For three to four days prior to the exam, you may want to start eating clean low-fiber foods to help with the cleansing process. White bread and pasta, cooked vegetables without the skin, seedless fruits, lean meat, and eggs are good dietary options.
On the day before the colonoscopy, you’ll need to follow a special diet that limits you to mostly liquids, including water, tea, plain coffee, and broth. You won’t be able to eat before the exam. You may not be able to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before the procedure. You’ll want to clear your schedule the night before and day of the exam, and will need someone to take you home afterwards.
Also, you may be instructed to take a laxative or use an enema kit to flush out your colon either the night before or a few hours before the procedure.
Remember to remind your doctor of any medications you’re taking before the colonoscopy because you may need to adjust the dosages or stop taking them temporarily.
Recovering From a Colonoscopy
It will take about one hour to recover after the exam due to the sedation. You may feel a little sleepy and will want to have someone bring you home.
The night of the colonoscopy, you’ll want to take it easy and rest. You can start drinking fluids and eating food, although we recommend starting small and with easy to digest foods. You should be hungry after fasting before the procedure, and should try starting with a couple slices of toast. You’ll want to avoid alcohol, driving, and operating machinery for 24 hours following the procedure.
You may also feel bloated, have rectal bleeding, and experience some slight discomfort after the procedure.
Take an over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen if you feel sore. Contact your doctor right away if you experience severe abdominal pain, fever, bloody bowel movements, dizziness, and weakness.
Is a colonoscopy effective in preventing colon cancer?
Yes. In addition to helping patients detect and remove polyps and cancer, various studies show patients who receive colonoscopies are less susceptible to colon cancer than all others.
Is a colonoscopy painful?
Generally, no. A gastroenterologist does everything possible to ensure a patient is comfortable during a colonoscopy. A patient is sedated throughout a colonoscopy, and in some cases, patients won’t even remember undergoing the procedure.
Are there any complications associated with colonoscopies?
Like any medical procedure, there are potential complications associated with colonoscopies. In rare instances, a colonoscopy patient may experience cardiac or respiratory issues due to sedation. Or, the colon may become partially torn; in this case, a patient may require surgery to repair the colon. A patient may also require additional treatment due to bleeding after a polyp is removed; this treatment may include hospitalization and/or a blood transfusion.
A gastroenterologist allocates time and resources to discuss all aspects of a colonoscopy prior to performing the procedure. By doing so, a gastroenterologist helps a patient make an informed decision about the procedure.
Is there an ideal time to undergo a colonoscopy?
Oftentimes, it is beneficial to undergo a colonoscopy starting at the age of 50. If no tumors are found at this time, a patient should schedule a follow-up screening within 10 years. On the other hand, if any tumors are identified, a patient should schedule a follow-up screening within five to 10 years.
Contact Our Beverly Hills and Los Angeles GI Surgeons
If you are interested in learning more about any of the procedures that are part of the La Peer Health Systems Gastroenterology Department, please contact us. You may also reach us by phone, please call (855) 360-9119 and ask to speak with the Department of Gastroenterology.
For more information please visit our Colonoscopy Center of Excellence website, dedicated 100% to colon cancer screenings!