A colonoscopy is a procedure in which a long, flexible instrument with a tiny video camera is inserted into the rectum to view inside the colon (large intestine). The test helps determine the causes of various gastrointestinal problems. A colonoscopy is also performed to screen for colon cancer and precancerous lesions.
Spotting colon cancer early with a colonoscopy can improve your outlook and, in some cases, save your life. This article discusses the signs that you should get a colonoscopy.
Colorectal cancer (cancer affecting the colon and rectum) is the third most common cancer in the United States. In 2021, an estimated 104,270 new cases of colon cancer were diagnosed.
In recent years, there’s been a surge of new colon cancer cases in younger adults. Since the 1990s, the rate of colorectal cancer has more than doubled in people younger than 50. For these reasons, it's important to follow colon cancer screening guidelines.
When you first get a colonoscopy and how often you need follow-up tests will depend on your age and personal risk factors. Your healthcare provider might also recommend the test if you have certain gastrointestinal symptoms.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that adults between the ages of 45 and 75 be screened for colorectal cancer. The task force recommends that adults between ages 76 and 85 should ask their healthcare providers if they should undergo screening.
The USPSTF guidelines state that most people with an average risk for colorectal cancer should begin screening after they turn 45 years of age.
You may be at an increased risk for colon cancer if you have:
In these cases, your healthcare provider might recommend that you undergo screening at an earlier age and more often than average.
When developing a colon cancer screening plan, your family history is an essential factor to consider. About 1 in every 4 people with colorectal cancer has a family history of the cancer.
Those with a family history of cancer are typically screened either at age 40 or 10 years before the youngest case in their immediate family (whichever comes first).
Your provider may recommend that you have a colonoscopy if you develop signs or symptoms of colon cancer, which may include:
Many times, colon cancer doesn't cause symptoms until it has spread. That's why screening with a colonoscopy is so important. Spotting this cancer early might make it easier to treat. Additionally, your healthcare provider may be able to prevent colon cancer by removing precancerous polyps during a colonoscopy procedure.
Digestive symptoms don't usually mean cancer. Many of the symptoms of colon cancer are also problems associated with other, common medical conditions.
Infections that attack your body can cause symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, or pain in the abdomen or rectum.
Hemorrhoids are swollen veins inside the rectum or outside the anus. They can cause pain, itching, and rectal bleeding.
IBD include Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These two conditions cause chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. They can trigger symptoms that mimic those of colon cancer, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, bloody stools, weight loss, and fatigue.
Studies show that people with inflammatory bowel disease are at a significantly increased risk of developing colon cancer. If you have Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, you should be especially vigilant about screening. Having inflammatory bowel disease also raises the risk of melanoma, a serious type of skin cancer.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition that affects the digestive system. If you have IBS, you might experience diarrhea, constipation, gas, or bloating. However, IBS doesn’t damage your digestive tract or put you at risk for colon cancer.
If your healthcare provider suspects you have colon cancer, you may undergo tests or different types of exams.
It's important to let your healthcare provider know of your entire medical history, especially if you've ever had cancer before.
Certain treatments, such as radiation to the abdomen or pelvic area, may put you at an increased risk for colon cancer.
A complete blood count (CBC), liver enzyme test, or a tumor marker blood test may help your provider determine if you have colon cancer.
Your healthcare provider might order certain imaging tests to identify colon cancer or learn more about a suspicious area. These may include:
Some tests may serve as alternatives to a colonoscopy. These include:
You should always talk to your healthcare provider when deciding on the best screening technique.
Most health insurance and Medicare plans help cover colon cancer screenings for people who qualify. Some plans will pay for the procedure completely. Check with your insurance company to find out what benefits are included.
A colonoscopy is a test that provides a view of the colon. In addition to diagnosing many medical conditions, this procedure can help detect colon cancer or precancerous lesions.
Screening time and frequency will depend on your age, your personal medical history, and your family’s medical history. Your healthcare provider might also recommend a colonoscopy if you are experiencing certain symptoms of colon cancer, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloody stool, or other issues.
A colonoscopy can be a lifesaving screening tool. Don’t wait to have this test if you’re due for it or your healthcare provider recommends the procedure. Some people avoid having a colonoscopy out of embarrassment. However, delaying screening can increase the odds that potential cancer will develop and spread. Talk to your provider if you have any concerns about the procedure.
Colon cancer pain is typically described as vague abdominal pain. The exact site of the pain will vary, depending on where the cancer is located. For instance, if the cancer spreads to your liver, you might feel pain in your upper-right abdomen.
Many people worry that a colonoscopy will hurt, but the procedure typically causes minimal or no discomfort. You will be sedated and won't feel what's happening.
The colonoscopy itself doesn't require any recovery time, but you may experience drowsiness from the anesthesia. You also might feel a little bloated or pass gas after the procedure. It usually takes about a day for you to feel back to normal.