a doctor determining whether a patient needs a colonoscopy

Do I Need a Colonoscopy?

As we age, the list of medical precautions we have to take seems to increase. Doctors tend to start recommending mammograms, cholesterol tests, and colonoscopies when you reach a certain age. This is only for your benefit. Our bodies are more at risk the older we get and the sooner that potential threats are recognized, the better the chance is for successful treatment. 

What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a procedure done in an outpatient facility. A doctor will examine your colon and rectum from the inside using a small camera to check for abnormalities. This helps the doctor make a diagnosis or remove lesions or polyps for biopsy. If tissue is removed, it can then be examined to determine if it is cancerous. A colonoscopy is able to examine the entire colon area. 

Who should get one?

According to the American Cancer Society, the recommendation is that starting at age 50, men and women get a colonoscopy every 10 years. Colonoscopies are also ordered if you are experiencing unexplained abdominal pain, major changes in bowel habits or rectal bleeding. Individuals with a history of colon cancer are encouraged to have earlier and more frequent colonoscopies performed to head off the development of cancer cells. 

What is the purpose of a colonoscopy?

The main reason someone would get a colonoscopy procedure done would be to investigate signs and symptoms of intestinal distress. Another reason is to screen for colon cancer. The sooner that any type of cancer is detected, the sooner it can be treated. This will give the patient a greater chance of survival. Along these lines, looking for more polyps, if some have been found before, will be a major reason for getting a colonoscopy. 

What happens during the procedure?

During a colonoscopy, you will be given medication to help you relax. You will lie on your side on an examination table while an endoscopic tube is inserted through the rectum to the colon. The doctor will be checking for abnormalities throughout the exam. You may feel slight cramping and discomfort during the procedure. If the doctor finds anything abnormal during the procedure, he or she may extract tissue at that time for biopsy. The procedure will last about 30-60 minutes. 

As with any important medical check up or procedure, you should inform your doctor about any changes or concerns you have experienced lately, especially if you are at risk genetically for colon or other cancers. Although most consider it an uncomfortable procedure, a colonoscopy is an important procedure that could save your life by heading off cancer at its beginning stages.

Last Updated: March 29, 2016