If you're approaching your 50th birthday, your doctor may recommend a baseline colonoscopy. The American Cancer Society recommends that everyone should begin colon cancer screening tests at 50 years of age. A colonoscopy is one such test your doctor can order for a baseline and then repeat every ten years thereafter if the tests are negative. If your doctor finds early signs of cancer or polyps, you may need to have more frequent tests to keep an eye on your condition. Here's a look at why this colon cancer test is important for your health and how it's done.
Early Cancer Detection
A colonoscopy catches cancer in the very early stages. If your doctor sees a polyp or growth during the procedure, he or she can easily remove it at the time if it is still small enough. This not only prevents the need for more extensive surgery and cancer treatments later on, it also increases your chances of surviving the cancer. No matter what kind of cancer you have, early detection and early treatment are important. When it comes to colon cancer, if you get early treatment, you'll have a 90 percent chance of beating the disease. The five-year survival rate drops to 12 percent if detection and treatment begins after the cancer has spread to other organs.
The Colonoscopy Procedure
You may dread the idea of having this procedure because of misconceptions you have about the test. While it may sound like an uncomfortable experience to endure, you will be sedated during the procedure, so you won't have much discomfort. You may take a pill the morning of the test, or your doctor may give you a sedative along with pain medications through an IV. The advantage of IV medications is they work quickly and wear off quickly. Plus, your doctor can adjust the dose to make sure you are kept comfortable.
To perform this test, your doctor uses a flexible scope with a camera to look inside your colon. To get a good view of your colon wall, you'll need to take laxatives the day before to clean everything out of your system. It's important for your colon to be as clean as possible so your doctor doesn't overlook any tiny polyps.
If your doctor finds a polyp or unusual growth, he or she can snip it out and send it to the lab to be tested for cancer. You may not have any polyps, but you could have one or several. They may or may not be cancerous. The frequency of your future testing will depend on the size, number, and cell characteristics of the polyps removed during your baseline colonoscopy.
A colonoscopy isn't the only colon cancer test you can have, but it is often recommended. The advantage of this test is your doctor can look for growths and remove them at the same time.