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Do You Need a Colonoscopy?

As far as routine health screenings go, many people are a little fuzzy on the colonoscopy. What is a colonoscopy? Who should have one? Do you need to proactively ask or should you wait for your doctor to bring it up?

What is a Colonoscopy?

When you get a colonoscopy, your doctor inserts a long, flexible tube into your rectum. This tube has a tiny video camera on the end of it, so that your doctor can view your colon and look for any abnormalities. If any abnormalities are found, such as polyps, the tube is also capable of taking a small sample of that tissue.

Even if you don’t have any intestinal symptoms, you may still have precancerous polyps growing in your colon . Removing them stops cancer from developing.

While mildly uncomfortable and often requiring a day off of work, traditional colonoscopies are one of the best ways to protect your colon health.

Reasons You Might Need a Colonoscopy

There are a variety of reasons why your doctor might recommend a colonoscopy :

  • To investigate intestinal symptoms. The exam can help your doctor explore possible causes of abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, chronic constipation, chronic diarrhea, and other intestinal issues.
  • To screen for colon cancer. If you're age 50 or older and at average risk of colon cancer, your doctor may recommend a colonoscopy every ten years
  • As a follow up. If you have had polyps before, your doctor may recommend a follow-up colonoscopy to look for and remove any additional polyps, reducing your risk of colon cancer.

To understand your risk factors for colon cancer, review these guidelines from the American Cancer Society .

Alternative Ways to Test for Colon Cancer

Because of the nature of the exam and the required diet/fasting beforehand, many people try to avoid routine colonoscopies. According to US News & World Report, only about 50 percent of people follow their doctor’s orders to schedule a colonoscopy, despite the fact that it is a safe, reliable way to screen for and prevent cancer, as well as diagnose and treat other issues in the lower intestine and rectum.

If you are considered “average risk” but would still like to avoid a colonoscopy screening, there are other tests worth asking your doctor about, including the following options:

· Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)

· High-Sensitivity Fecal Occult Blood Tests (FOBT)

· Stool-Based DNA Test (sDNA)

· Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

· CT Colonography

Experts agree that these alternative screening methods are not as complete as a colonoscopy and if any abnormalities are found, you will likely need to schedule a traditional colonoscopy as a follow up.

Should I Ask My Doctor About a Colonoscopy?

If you have any risk factors or a family history of colon cancer, you should definitely let your doctor know and take steps to protect yourself. If you are under 50 years old and of low or average risk, your doctor will probably recommend a routine screening a little closer to your 50th birthday. For more information, review the American Cancer Society’s recommendations for colorectal cancer early detection .



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