If you are approaching your 50th birthday or you have a family history of colon or rectal cancer, you may want to consider scheduling a colonoscopy. This simple procedure is used to look for polyps and other abnormalities that are related to the risk of cancer in the colon and rectum. It is also used to diagnose the causes of unexplained changes in bowel habits, and causes of bleeding. Pre-cancerous polyps (adenomas) are common and are frequently found on colonoscopy with a rate of approximately 15% for women and 25% for men.
The reason we recommend a colonoscopy for those over 50 is because, with age, we are more likely to have pre-cancerous polyps in our colons. These polyps, if allowed to continue growing may become cancerous.
During the procedure, you will probably be given a mild sedative to keep you comfortable and relaxed. The physician will insert a flexible, lighted tube into your rectum and slowly guide it into your colon. The tube is called a colonoscope. The flexible scope transmits an image of the inside of the colon as it is steered around corners and bends so the entire colon can be visualized.
If anything abnormal is seen in your colon, like a polyp or inflamed tissue, the physician can remove all or part of it using instruments passed through the scope. The resulting sample tissue (biopsy) is then sent to a lab for testing. You will need to remain in the recovery area for 1 to 2 hours until the sedative wears off. Complications of colonoscopy are uncommon.
Don’t take your health for granted – schedule a colonoscopy for your good health and peace of mind.
Peter L. Moses, MD, is a gastroenterologist at the UVM Medical Center and a professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM.