Colonoscopy Facts

What is colonoscopy? Do I have to get one? How often? Why do I need one? What is the goal of that test?

These are questions that one asks as they visit their physician for their annual exam. A colonoscopy is a test that where the physician looks with a magnifying camera at the inner lining of a person’s large intestine. Sample biopsies may be done at the time of the test. The colonoscopy test is typically performed for colon and rectal cancer screening, but the physician may order it for other reasons as well, which include: blood in the stool, abnormal test results from another colon test, family history of colon cancer, anemia unexplained otherwise. The stated are some indications for colonoscopy, but it is not an inclusive list.

Colon cancer screening starts at age 50, meaning first colonoscopy should be done at age 50. However, people who are at an increased risk of colon cancer should begin screening at a younger age depending on individual situation. Persons with a strong family history of colon cancer or with diseases of the colon as “Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis” are at increased risk for colon cancer and should talk to their doctor about the screening. Colonoscopy is usually performed every 10 years if the initial test is negative, however if the doctor finds anything that increases your risk, you might need to repeat it sooner.

The goal of the colonoscopy is to detect and remove polyps before they become cancer. If cancer is present, then the goal is to find it early before it spreads and causes additional health problems. Having colon cancer screening lowers one’s chance of dying from colon cancer.

Advantages of colonoscopy over other colon cancer detection modalities is that in a colonoscopy, the physician views the rectum and the entire colon, and , if necessary, can perform a biopsy and remove polyps or other abnormal tissue during the test. It is considered the gold standard screening for colon cancer.

Dr. Peter Beshara is a Family Medicine Physician at UTMB Health Primary Care-Texas City

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