When colorectal cancer is caught early, it has a 90% survival rate. The American Cancer Society says increasing colon cancer testing among adults 50 and older represents the single greatest opportunity to decrease colon cancer death rates.
In most cases, colorectal cancers develop slowly over many years, starting as a polyp – a growth of tissue in the colon lining. Removing a polyp early may prevent it from becoming cancerous. Most polyps can be easily removed during a colonoscopy.
The death rate from colorectal cancer has been decreasing for the past 15 years, due in part to colonoscopy screening. Colonoscopy can:
- identify and remove polyps;
- and detect colorectal cancers earlier when it is easier to cure
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cause of cancer and cancer death in both men and women in the United States.
The American Cancer Society estimates nearly 150,000 new cases of colon cancer and rectal cancer in 2008 in the United States. Combined, they will cause approximately 49,960 deaths. More than 90 percent of cases are diagnosed in people over the age of 50.
Screening tests are used to look for disease in people who do not have any symptoms, just like mammogram screens for breast cancer, and prostate exam screens for prostate cancer. The goal is to find colorectal cancers at an early stage, even before symptoms, to greatly improve the chances of successful treatment. Screening tests can also allow doctors to find and remove polyps that might become cancerous.
A colonoscope is a thin, flexible, lighted tube about the thickness of a finger. It allows the doctor to see the entire colon. Before the test begins, you will be given medicine through your vein to make you feel comfortable and sleepy. You may be awake, but you may not be aware of what is going on and may not remember the test afterward. The colonoscopy takes approximately 30 minutes.
If a polyp is found, the doctor may remove it. If anything else looks abnormal, a biopsy may be taken. To do this, a small piece of tissue is removed from the colon. The tissue is then sent to a lab to be analyzed. Our office calls patients with results, usually within a week. Many people find the bowel preparation the day before the procedure to be the most unpleasant part of the test.
Remember, the goal of colorectal cancer screening is to identify colorectal cancers at an earlier stage, even before symptoms occur, and to find and remove polyps that might become cancerous.
Preparing is usually considered the most difficult part of the procedure. The purpose of the preparation is to clean your digestive system and colon to make it easier to detect polyps or abnormal tissue during the colonoscopy.
This involves following a clear liquid diet for 24 hours prior to the colonoscopy and following one of the preparation instructions below: