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Why Do I Need a Colonoscopy?

~ As Appeared in the August 2017 Issue of North Shore News ~

Q: Why do I Need a Colonoscopy?

The reason for a colonoscopy is to detect colon cancer and treat it as early as possible.

Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer in the United States. Cancer can be present for years before symptoms occur so following your doctor’s advice on screening is important.  Because 90% of people diagnosed with colon cancer are over the age of 50, screenings begin at that age.  If you have a relative, especially parents or siblings, who have had colon cancer or polyps, your doctor may recommend screening earlier. The most common screening test is a colonoscopy, which is an outpatient procedure allowing a doctor to look at the inner lining of your large intestine (rectum and colon) to see if there are ulcers, polyps (like skin tags), tumors, inflammation or bleeding.

During the colonoscopy, polyps are removed and tested. If the polyp is precancerous, you’ve already done the right thing because removing the polyps can prevent colon cancer! Many people are reluctant to have a colonoscopy because they hear stories about the preparation. This involves drinking a solution to clean out your bowels. Since my mother had polyps, I’ve already had a colonoscopy and can tell you that the process can actually make you feel as clean as the day you were born.

You will be lightly sedated for the colonoscopy itself so you won’t feel anything or even be aware of what’s happening. Commonly people will wake up after the procedure and say it was the best nap they have ever had.  It will take about an hour to come out of the sedation and you will need someone to drive you home. If your colonoscopy is normal your next screening will likely be in 10 years. If a precancerous polyp is found and removed, the frequency increases to every three to five years.  By having a colonoscopy, you have taken a proactive step towards avoiding complications from one of the leading types of cancer.

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