Many people dread the word "colonoscopy" because they have either heard about the prep work required beforehand or fear the actual procedure itself as it does entail a very tiny camera tipped cable inserted rectally and moved throughout the colon.
Either way, at some point in your health you are going to have to get one done and according to the new guidelines recommended by the American College of Physicians, you will probably start at around 50 years old unless you have other concerns.
A colonoscopy can screen for a variety of conditions besides colorectal cancer. Think about polyps, diverticulosis/diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, obstruction, masses, and general inflammation as these conditions may not necessarily be evaluated by other means.
As colorectal cancer is the most concerning condition, there are several habits associated with increasing your risk. Research shows that red meat, processed meat, heavy alcohol use, smoking, obesity, and having inflammatory bowel disease are not good for your colon whereas exercise, high fiber diets, high intake of vegetables and fruit, folate, and vitamin D are healthy.
There are a small percentage of people who because of genetic factors must get their colonoscopies starting at 40 years old. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, you could fall into this category.
Symptoms to watch out for are low iron (anemia) for unknown reason, rectal bleeding, worsening constipation, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Unfortunately, some people do not have any symptoms and are only discovered on their routine screen.
If you get a colonoscopy and the doctor finds polyps in your colon they will so a biopsy and send it to pathology to be reviewed. Should your polyp come back pre-cancerous, your doctor will probably highly recommend a shortened schedule for you such that you return in 3-5 years instead of the typical every 10 years to keep an eye on future polyp growth.
Don’t fear a colonoscopy as it really could save your life.