If you were born in 1977 or before, it might be time to schedule your colonoscopy. While people may be putting off this exam, a recent age recommendation change and the risk of developing colon cancer should be the motivators you need to finally schedule your colonoscopy. While it’s understandable that people put off scheduling this exam due to time restraints and its uncomfortable nature, there are ways to ease any anxiety around this simple procedure. Plus, it might just save your life.
What even is a colonoscopy? You’ve probably heard this term before and know that it’s something you will eventually have to do. But what does the exam ultimately entail? A colonoscopy is an exam used to detect any changes in the large intestine (colon) and rectum. A doctor inserts a flexible tube with a tiny video camera attached at the end into the rectum, allowing the examiner to view the inside of the entire rectum and intestine. This exam helps provide your doctor with more information and detect early signs of colon cancer. It’s recommended to get a colonoscopy to investigate the intestinal movements and symptoms you may be experiencing. A colonoscopy can help your doctor explore possible causes of abdominal pain, bleeding, chronic constipation, diarrhea, and other intestinal problems.
As you age, the risk of developing polyps and colon cancer increases. Getting routine colonoscopies may help your doctor find abnormalities early so they can be treated quickly and address any concerns. Some people may be at a higher rate of colorectal cancer. Those at a higher rate includes people that have:
- A strong family history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps
- A personal history of colorectal cancer
- A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease)
If you’re over a certain age and at average risk of colon cancer, your doctor may recommend a colonoscopy every ten years or sooner. But when should you get your first colonoscopy? Most people commonly know that colonoscopies should start once you turn 50. However, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recently changed its guidelines around age recommendations. This change may mean you are behind on your schedule for getting a colonoscopy.
The American Cancer Society lowered their age recommendation for colonoscopies from 50 to 45 for people with an average risk. But why the change? The screening age lowered after studies found a significant rise in colon cancer rates in people younger than 50. The ACS made this change to screen people earlier and hopefully catch detection before cancer spreads or becomes too severe. Many people have been putting off routine and preventative care due to the COVID-19 pandemic and not wanting to come into the hospital. Please remember that it is safe to go to your doctor’s office and routine appointments, and putting off care only deters early detection and puts you at a higher risk of developing severe complications.
Here are a few tips to help make the entire exam as stress-free as possible. Remember, your comfort is a priority for all providers at Southwest Health. Before a colonoscopy, you need to clean out or empty your colon as residue would obscure your doctor’s view during the exam. Your doctor will give you precise instructions, but in general, you can expect them to include these three basic steps:
- Follow a Special Diet. Most often, you won’t be able to eat solid food the day before your exam. And, you’ll be restricted from eating or drinking after midnight the night before. Note: having your exam in the morning the next day will allow you to eat sooner after your exam than if it’s scheduled in the afternoon.
- Take a Laxative. Your doctor will give you specific instructions for this, but you can expect to take a laxative before you’re scheduled for your exam.
- Adjust Medications. Remind your doctor of all your medications. Depending on what you’re taking, they may adjust your dosages temporarily.
The biggest tip for any exam, specifically a colonoscopy, is to have a trusting relationship with your primary care physician and general surgeons before the exam. Knowing who will be conducting your exam may help to ease any worries you may have. At Southwest Health, two general surgeons may perform your exam.
Scott Houghton, MD, is an expertly trained, board-certified general surgeon. Having practiced in referral centers and critical access hospitals, he brings a large body of knowledge and experience to Southwest Health.
Maggie Jane Steinbessier, DO, is a highly experienced, board-certified general surgeon. Her compassionate, caring nature led her to begin her career in healthcare at a young age, and she completed her Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine at A.T.
Understandably, people put off getting a colonoscopy. It might feel like it will be an uncomfortable process, but it doesn’t need to be! Having a conversation with your doctor can help relieve any anxiety you may be having. If you are at an increased risk of colorectal cancer or think you may be behind on your exam, talk to your health care provider to learn more about getting a screening. You can get scheduled for an exam at Southwest Health by contacting your primary care provider or calling (608) 348-4330.