Colonoscopies are crucial in detecting abnormalities in the bowel that indicate an increased risk of colon cancer. However, getting the timing right for your first test is just as critical. Waiting too long could negate its early detection benefits.
Dr. Prem Chattoo is a board-certified gastroenterologist in practice at Hudson River Gastroenterology in New York. Read what Dr. Chattoo and his team say about the benefits of screening colonoscopies and when you need one.
Understanding what a colonoscopy is
A colonoscopy is a diagnostic procedure that gastroenterologists use to examine the interior lining of your large intestine (colon and rectum). It’s performed using a colonoscope, a long, flexible tube that transmits images of the colon to a monitor for viewing.
Inflamed tissue, ulcers, and abnormal growths, such as polyps that could potentially develop into cancer, are visible on the monitor. Dr. Chattoo can also treat these issues during the procedure using small surgical tools passed through the colonoscope.
He may, for instance, remove polyps and send tissue samples for a biopsy. Not all types of colon cancer arise from polyps, but most become cancerous if allowed to grow. The biopsy results provide information that helps guide future testing and treatment.
What you can expect during a colonoscopy
Dr. Chattoo and his team at Hudson River Gastroenterology provide detailed information about what to expect before, during, and after the procedure.
Generally, however, a screening colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure without hospitalization. Because the colon must be as empty as possible before a colonoscopy, you undergo a home-based prep a day before the procedure to clean out your bowels.
The procedure takes 30-60 minutes, depending on whether polyps, biopsies, etc., are necessary. However, we recommend allowing 2-3 hours for a colonoscopy due to prep-procedure, the procedure, and post-procedure monitoring.
Conscious sedation keeps you awake but relaxed during the study. Be sure to have someone drive you home afterward. You receive detailed instructions regarding aftercare, but we typically recommend resting for the rest of your day. Most patients return to routine activity within 24 hours.
When to schedule your first colonoscopy
As per the recommendations from the American Cancer Society, people at average risk for colon cancer should start regular screenings by age 45.
This advice is based on an increased incidence of colon cancer in younger populations. However, these guidelines can vary depending on your specific health circumstances.
“Average risk” applies to people with no identified risk factors for colon cancer other than age. If that’s you, we recommend you schedule a screening colonoscopy by age 45.
Risk factors that may require screening at an earlier age include:
- Personal or family history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps (precancerous)
- Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease)
- Inherited syndromes that increase your risk, such as Lynch syndrome
- Lifestyle factors that may increase your risk, such as poor diet and physical inactivity
Lynch syndrome is an inherited disorder that increases your risk of developing colon cancer before age 45.
Though rare, even children, teens, and young adults with Lynch syndrome may develop colon cancer, making regular screening colonoscopies crucial.
Early detection possible through a colonoscopy provides the opportunity to remove polyps and other abnormalities before they evolve into cancer.
For more information about your colon cancer risk factors or other services we offer, schedule a visit with Dr. Chattoo at Hudson River Gastroenterology today. Call the office or request an appointment online.