Having a colonoscopy is not only the best way to catch colorectal cancer early when it is most treatable, but it can also prevent colorectal cancer from developing in the first place.
Colorectal cancer starts as a small growth called a colon polyp. If colon polyps are left untreated for 5-10 years, they can turn into cancer.
During your colonoscopy, your doctor will use an instrument called a colonoscope that has a tiny camera on the end. Using the image of the inside of your colon that the camera transmits to a computer screen, your doctor will inspect your entire colon for signs of colorectal cancer and colon polyps.
If your doctor finds a colon polyp, he or she can prevent problems by removing it before it turns into cancer.
This visual examination—combined with your doctor’s ability to remove colon polyps before they become cancerous—is what makes a colonoscopy the best test to screen for and prevent colorectal cancer. In fact, colonoscopies are so effective that they usually only need to be repeated once every 10 years. NOTE: If you had several polyps, or a family history of colon cancer, your doctor may suggest a colonoscopy every five years.
Your doctor will recommend a colonoscopy around your 50th birthday. If you are at high risk of getting colorectal cancer, your doctor may recommend earlier screenings.
Colorectal cancer usually doesn’t cause symptoms until it is very advanced, so it is important to have a colonoscopy when your doctor suggests it. You should tell your doctor right away if you are having symptoms of colorectal cancer, which could include:
Putting off a colonoscopy can decrease the chances that your doctor will be able to prevent colorectal cancer by removing colon polyps before they become cancerous.
And, if your doctor ends up finding colorectal cancer, your long-term survival rate could be lower. That’s because waiting too long to have a colonoscopy increases your chances of having an advanced case of colorectal cancer that has spread to other areas of your body.
Although having a colonoscopy may seem like a hassle, it is the best way to catch colorectal cancer early—when it is most treatable—and prevent colorectal cancer from developing in the future.