A colonoscopy screening checks for signs of colorectal cancer through the use of a colonoscope. This is a flexible tube with a light and a tool for tissue removal that is inserted into the anus and travels through the rectum and colon looking for abnormal growths called polyps.
While most polyps are benign, some may be either malignant or pre-cancerous, and all must be removed and a biopsy performed to determine if cancer or potential for cancer is present.
Why are colonoscopies necessary?
Colonoscopies can detect colorectal cancer in its early stages, when it is still more susceptible to treatment. Colorectal cancer may take years to reach an advanced stage, and may do so with no obvious symptoms. By the time symptoms appear, treatment may be ineffective. Colorectal cancer is second only to lung cancer in cancer deaths in the United States.
Who are the primary recipients of colonoscopy screenings?
Because family history and age are considered strong risk factors for developing colorectal cancer, adults are urged to get a screening at age 50. Individuals with a strong family history of colorectal cancer and those who suffer from bowel issues such as Colitis or Crohn's disease are also advised to get a colonoscopy screening.
Initial colonoscopy screenings must be covered by health insurance providers without any out-of-pocket costs, such as co-pays or deductibles, according to prevention benefits mandated by the Affordable Care Act. This is designed to encourage individuals to take advantage of preventive screenings that may save their life.
However, this only applies to the initial screening. If polyps are found and removed, and subsequent screenings scheduled, they are not provided with the same mandated benefits as the initial screening.
How is a colonoscopy performed?
The preparation for a colonoscopy is much more unpleasant than the procedure itself, which is done under sedation. The colon must be completely cleansed, so the patient cannot eat for twenty-four hours before the procedure.
Stool softeners are taken in the early evening of the preceding day, followed by a two week supply of laxative, which is mixed with two liters of liquid. All of the laxative and liquid must be consumed within a period of a few hours, to stimulate cleansing and avoid dehydration.
Intense bouts of diarrhea result, which may last for several hours or through the night before the procedure. Most facilities will require a designated driver to accompany the patient to the screening because of the aftereffects of the sedation.
If polyps are found, they are removed and a biopsy performed. A subsequent screening will likely be scheduled. If the colon is clear, and the patient has no other risk factors, they will not need another screening for ten years.
Colonoscopies are unpleasant and embarrassing, but they may prevent a very unpleasant and painful death from colorectal cancer. To get screened, see a specialist like Clinical Gastrointestinal Associates, PC or ask your physician.