This minimally invasive screening may be the right option for you

This minimally invasive screening may be the right option for you

Once you turn 50, the inevitable happens.

It’s time to schedule your first colonoscopy, one of several ways to be screened for colorectal cancer. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends adults between 50 and 75 years of age undergo regular screenings. After 75, the decision to continue screenings is made on a case-by-case basis and largely determined by each person’s risk for developing this type of cancer.

A colonoscopy is one of the most common ways to screen for colorectal cancer and is typically repeated every ten years. Even though the majority of people undergo only three to five colonoscopies in their lifetime, patients are typically not eager to go through the process and try to avoid it, if possible.

But skipping out on the recommended screening can adversely affect your health.

“Colonoscopy is the only measure in medicine that not only acts as a cancer screening tool but also prevents formation of cancer through removal of polyps,” says Dr. Igor Naryzhny, a gastroenterologist at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.

Those looking for alternatives to a traditional colonoscopy can opt for a virtual colonoscopy, a less invasive version of the procedure. Since colon cancer is the third most common cancer in men and women, affecting 1 in 20 people, regardless of which option you choose, being regularly screened for colon cancer is what’s most important.

Which Type of Colonoscopy is Right for Me?

Traditional Colonoscopy: A traditional colonoscopy is performed in a hospital’s gastrointestinal (GI) lab. Using a small camera attached to a long, flexible tube called a colonoscope, physicians can inspect the full length of the colon and rectum, see inside the colon, perform biopsies, remove colon polyps (pre-cancerous polyps) and diagnose colon and rectal conditions.

“The benefit of the traditional colonoscopy is that polyps, which are thought to grow into cancer, are removed during the exam. Additionally, other problem areas can also be addressed or biopsied for a diagnosis,” says Dr. Naryzhny.

A traditional colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure that takes less than one hour to perform, and patients are sedated for the screening. Physicians will prescribe a medication to be taken one day before the exam that thoroughly clears out the bowels. Typically, a traditional colonoscopy should be performed every 10 years unless an individual has a family history of colorectal cancer, risk factors or any warning signs of the disease, including changes in bowel habits, rectal bleeding, unexplained abdominal pain or weight loss, inflammatory bowel disease or blood in the stool.

Virtual Colonoscopy: During a computed tomography colonoscopy, otherwise known as a virtual colonoscopy, physicians look for small polyps or growths inside the colon that could turn into colon cancer. This is typically done in the radiology department at the hospital, as opposed to the GI lab.

To perform a virtual colonoscopy, a small, short tube is placed into the rectum so air can be pumped into the colon, which makes polyps and other growths easier to spot. During this screening, contrast is utilized, and a CT scanner takes X-rays of the colon, which are processed by a computer. The computer then puts all the X-rays together to create 3-D images of the colon and rectum for your health care provider to review.

Although a colon cleansing medication is still required, no camera is inserted into the colon and rectum, making this procedure considerably less invasive. Patients do not need to be sedated during a virtual colonoscopy. It’s recommended that individuals who choose this route undergo screening every five years.

“Patients who are poor candidates for sedation or anesthesia, which is utilized during a traditional colonoscopy, might consider a virtual colonoscopy,” says Dr. Naryzhny. “Those on blood-thinning therapy which cannot be interrupted for a traditional colonoscopy are good candidates, as well, although the ability to perform a traditional colonoscopy while taking blood thinning therapy is expanding.”

While it’s less invasive and takes less time to complete, virtual colonoscopies can have some drawbacks.

Physicians cannot biopsy or remove any polyps they find during a virtual colonoscopy like they would doing a traditional colonoscopy. If polyps are found, you will still require a regular colonoscopy. In addition, polyps smaller than 10 mm that will most likely be seen during a regular colonoscopy could be missed during a CT colonoscopy. During a virtual colonoscopy, individuals are exposed to radiation from the X-ray machine, which can slightly increase your risk for developing cancer.

Regular colonoscopies are more invasive, but allow physicians to complete a more thorough examination of polyps, while virtual colonoscopies are less uncomfortable and give physicians the ability to inspect areas outside of the large intestine. When deciding which route to take, it is important to talk with your physician about your comfort level, risk factors and all of your options to choose the best screening tool for you.

Take our Colorectal Health Assessment to determine your estimated lifetime risk.

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  1. Health care seems to be pushing Colonoscopies on just about everyone. For some this may be the way to go if that type of cancer runs in the family. However telling everyone that at age 50 they need a colonoscopy is utterly ridicules and Health Care should be ashamed of that. First of all the average age of a person that contracts that type of cancer is in their 70’s and above at an average rate of 2%. There are people out there that stated that prior to having a Colonoscopy they never had stomach issue, but after the Colonoscopy they developed stomach issue’s and regret being subjected to one. For every 1,000 colonoscopies performed 1 person gets injured. I do not want to be that 1 in 1,000. I have Diverticulitis and the doctors are trying to push me to have a colonoscopy, they already did a CT scan and diagnosed me with a sever case of Diverticulitis, but stated that I can not be treated with medications until I get scoped. That is total BS wouldn’t you say? I have read that patients have died after a Colonoscopy, I know those numbers are low, but it can happen. Health Care needs to send out a different message on why people should have Colonoscopies, it should not be because you turn 50, it should be if colon cancer runs in the family then yes by 45 to 50 years of age you should be screened. By stating that everyone at the age of 50 should have one is totally misleading. I can not believe that 14 million people a year have colonoscopies performed each year, this sounds like a money thing to me and that is a shame. The thing that bothers me is that everyone I talk to about this subject has told me that their doctor is always requesting them to have Colonoscopy. Reported in this study from 2006; “The perforation rate reported from colonoscopies was 1 in 1000 procedures, and ‘serious complications’ occurred in 5 in 1000”. According The Annals Of Internal Medicine’s report on colonoscopies, an estimated 70,000 (0.5%) will be injured or killed by a complication related to this procedure. This figure is 22% higher than the annual deaths from colorectal cancer itself – the very disease the device was designed to prevent.

  2. Ordercialisonline April 5, 2018 at 2:42 am · Reply

    My mom died at age 49 from metastasized colon cancer. She had a colonoscopy, had a pre-cancerous polyp removed, then 18 mos. later she had a re-check and they found a cancerous one, and it”d already spread to her liver. She was way too young to die. I was 25 when she died; I”ve had colonoscopies every 3 yrs. in the 25 yrs. since, and now, the doctor says every 5 yrs. is good. I”m calling right now to schedule my next one. The prep used now, Movie Prep (yeah, very apropos lol) is a lot less than the jug you had to drink in the past. And while you and your bathroom will become fast friends for a day, it”s SO worth it for years of peace of mind. Do it for yourself, do it for your families, but PLEASE DO IT! It is truly an important test! Report this comment as spam or abuse

About the Author

Colette Harris
Colette Harris

Colette A. Harris, health enews contributor, is the public affairs and marketing coordinator at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Il. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and has nearly a decade of experience writing about health and wellness, which are her passions. When she’s not writing, you can find her practicing yoga, cooking, reading, or traveling.