Colon cancer is the 3rd most common cancer in both men and women in the U.S. and the 2nd leading cause of cancer death, according the American Cancer Society (ACS). Take colon cancer screening seriously.
How do the various methods for screening colon cancer compare?
Colonoscopy is one of the most sensitive tests to screen for colon cancer. But the truth is that colonoscopy can make people uncomfortable. Some think cleaning out your bowel is gross or that colonoscopy is too invasive. There are tests on the market that advertise as easy, at-home colon cancer screenings. Some test for occult (hidden) blood in the stool. Another test on the market also looks for abnormal DNA in your stool.
While these tests can be effective in detecting colon cancer, they are not without problems. What you eat, the vitamins you take and some medicines can affect the results of the test. And you have to be vigilant about taking the test every year (or three years for the DNA test). Missing a year can mean missing a cancer diagnosis.
In addition, these tests contain a risk for false-positives. But even more concerning, they have a risk for false-negatives. A false-negative means saying you are OK, when you are not. Until the margin of error is lower, my recommendation for most people is still to have a colonoscopy.
Colonoscopy can help prevent colon cancer.
First, we can remove polyps during a colonoscopy. Polyps are small clumps of cells that form on the lining of the colon and can turn into cancer. The high-definition equipment we use allows us to see the colon lining in incredible detail. Detecting and removing the polyps in a single procedure actively prevents colon cancer from forming.
Prepping for a Colonoscopy is easier than you think
Preparation for the colonoscopy is easier than you think. We often prescribe a split dose of the medication needed to clear the colon, so you can take half the night before and the other half the morning of your procedure. Most patients experience little or minimal discomfort. I’ve done the prep myself because I wanted to see what my patients experience. It wasn’t bad at all. During the procedure, you’ll be given medicine to relax or sleep through it, so you don’t feel anything. In fact, you may have no memory of the colonoscopy at all.
Peace of mind
For many people, they won’t need a repeat colonoscopy for another ten years. That can give you great peace of mind.
You want to detect cancer early, when it is most treatable. So don’t procrastinate scheduling your colonoscopy. If you are age 45 or older, or if there is a history of colon cancer in your family, you should speak with your physician about when to have a screening colonoscopy.