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Colonoscopy: Five Things to Know About This Lifesaving Test

Does just the thought of a colonoscopy make you shudder? Maybe you need to know a little more about this important test.

First of all, it might help to realize you probably won’t even remember anything about the test or feel any different afterward. That’s because you’ll be given a mild sedative during the procedure.

Two More Benefits

Many screenings spot cancer early, when it’s most treatable. But did you know that colonoscopies have another life-saving benefit?

Most colorectal cancers begin as growths called polyps. If your doctor sees polyps during your colonoscopy, he or she can remove them right then and there. And according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine, this reduces your risk of dying from the disease by half.

So not only can colonoscopies catch cancer, they also can catch growths before they become cancer.

When to Get It


Now that you know more about the test, you can think about when you need to have it. Most people should get colonoscopies beginning at age 50. Talk with your doctor about the right timing for you. You may need to start earlier if you have a family history of colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, or other risk factors.

 

You May Need a Follow-Up

If your doctor tells you to come back in five years for a follow-up colonoscopy, don’t argue.

People who fail to get their recommended follow-up exams after a colonoscopy have an increased risk for colon cancer, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Researchers analyzed the health of 400 people with polyps in their colons or rectums. Those who developed cancer were three times as likely to have skipped their five-year follow-up as those who kept the appointment.

 

Sources

“Colonoscopic Polypectomy and Long-Term Prevention of Colorectal-Cancer Deaths.” A.G. Zauber et al. The New England Journal of Medicine. Vol. 366, no. 8, pp. 687-96, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22356322.

“Colonoscopy.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/colonoscopy.

“Can Colorectal Cancer Be Prevented?” American Cancer Society. www.cancer.org/Cancer/ColonandRectumCancer/DetailedGuide/colorectal-cancer-prevention.

“Colorectal Cancer.” American Academy of Family Physicians. familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/colorectal-cancer.html .

“Colorectal Cancer Prevention.” National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/prevention/colorectal/Patient/page3.

“Colon Cancer Statistics.” Colon Cancer Alliance. www.ccalliance.org/colorectal_cancer/statistics.html.

“Role of Colonoscopy and Polyp Characteristics in Colorectal Cancer After Colonoscopic Polyp Detection: A Population-Based Case–Control Study.”

H. Brenner et al., Annals of Internal Medicine, August 2012, Vol. 157, No. 4, annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1351358.