ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If you’ve been avoiding, or even dreading, scheduling a colonoscopy, it’s time to give the important cancer screening tool another thought. Not only is the test a life-saving measure, a Saint Louis University doctor says, but your worries may be unwarranted.
“A colonoscopy is an amazing tool that allows us to see how healthy our insides are,” said Christine Hachem, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine and a gastroenterologist at Saint Louis University. “While you may feel anxious about the procedure, a discussion with your doctor can ease many of your concerns.”
The most common use for colonoscopies is for colon and rectal cancer screening in someone without symptoms. They’re also used to evaluate those who are experiencing symptoms, like a change in bowel habits, blood in your bowel movements or anemia.
Screening colonoscopies are recommended for the general population beginning at age 50. However, there are some groups, like African Americans, who should start screening colonoscopies at age 45 because of their increased risk of colon cancer. In addition, if you have a disease that puts you at increased risk of colon cancer, such as inflammatory bowel disease, family history of colon cancer or related cancer or symptoms or concerning signs, you should discuss the best time to get the procedure with your doctor.
Hachem offers five reasons why you should talk to your doctor about colonoscopies:
ONE: The top reason is simple. This single 20-minute test can save your life. It helps to identify those at risk of developing cancer. Waiting until you develop signs or symptoms may be too late.
TWO: Your worries may be misplaced. “Talk to your doctor about your concerns because there are a lot of ways of preparing for and doing the same procedure and we can tailor the procedure to each patient’s needs,” Hachem said.
THREE: You probably won’t remember it. Patients usually are given sedative medication that makes them feel relaxed and sleepy. “Most people wake up afterwards asking when the procedure will start,” Hachem said.
FOUR: Having a colonoscopy at the recommended time helps keep the odds in your favor. During the procedure, your doctor may discover and remove precancerous polyps, which can keep cancer from developing. If the test finds cancer, treatment can begin right away. The sooner a cancer is caught, the better chances you have at beating it.
FIVE: A colonoscopy doesn’t just affect you; it gives your family valuable information, as well, about their own risk of cancer.