Top 5 reasons to get a colonoscopy

Tiffany Fancher, MD

Sending  a doctor – even a doctor operating by proxy through a camera the size of a straw– into ‘places the sun don’t shine’ isn’t an appealing idea to most people.

But colonoscopies can gather important information. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the US, according to the CDC, and screening for colorectal cancer can save lives.

Here are the top five reasons you should get a colonoscopy:

  1. You have a family history of colorectal cancer.
  2. You’re 50 years old, or older – or it’s been ten or more years since your last colonoscopy.
  3. You’re experiencing ongoing gastrointestinal symptoms, such as abdominal pain, constipation, irregular bowel movements, or blood in your stool.
  4. You want peace of mind about your colorectal health.
  5. Finding potential problems earlier mean they’re easier to treat.

Your primary care practitioner or gastroenterologist might recommend a colonoscopy for these or any number of other reasons. And although it’s not likely number one on your list of things you’re desperate to do, getting a colonoscopy is actually pretty straightforward.

Because your colon usually has waste in it – that’s its function, after all – you’ll have to do some pre-exam preparation. Most providers prescribe a laxative pill and a clear liquid diet for a period leading up to the procedure, which help the colon to clean itself out before the procedure. That’s because any residue in the colon could obscure your doctor’s view of the colon and rectum during the exam, which can result in a longer procedure, a missed polyp, or even the need to repeat the procedure. Your colon is about 5 feet long – and it’s much easier to examine when it’s clean and clear!

The exam itself lasts only about 30 minutes. You’ll likely be given medication to help you relax and sleep during the procedure, which entails a gastroenterologist or colorectal surgeon using a small, flexible scope with a camera attached to the end to examine your colon.

The camera conveys video of your colon to a screen, where your provider will look for polyps, or small growths, on the lining of your rectum and colon. These growths can become cancerous, so you doctor will likely remove or biopsy any polyps he or she finds.

Finding and removing these polyps means that they don’t become cancerous. This kind of screening can also find cancerous growth early – before you experience symptoms – which allows you to get treatment early, when it’s most effective.

No matter how anxious or uncomfortable they are about getting a colonoscopy, my patients always seem to be glad that they did. Colorectal cancer can be easily prevented by getting routine colonoscopies. Talk to your primary care provider if you think it’s time for a screening.

Tiffany Fancher, MD, board certified general & colorectal surgeon, AtlantiCare Physician Group Surgical Associates