Colon Cancer Prevention Starts with Screening: Colonoscopy Guidelines, Benefits and Process Explained

Colonoscopies serve a vital, potentially life-saving purpose in cancer prevention and early detection. Learn who needs screening and what the procedure entails from CU Medicine provider Kristy Severson, CNP.

Colon cancer is the second deadliest cancer in the U.S., yet it’s also one of the most preventable. Nearly 90% of cases occur in those 50 years and older. The key to prevention is screening to find cancer or precancerous growths at the earliest and most treatable stage through a procedure called a colonoscopy.

“Colon cancer is curable and something we can prevent with proper screenings,” shares Kristy Severson, CNP at CU Medicine Gastroenterology – Highlands Ranch Specialty Care Center.

A colonoscopy uses a camera inserted into the colon to check for polyps, abnormal tissue growths that could turn cancerous over 10 to 15 years if not identified and removed. Removing precancerous polyps during a colonoscopy can prevent cancer from ever developing, making it the gold standard for colon cancer prevention and early detection. When caught early, colon cancer has over a 90% five-year survival rate – screening colonoscopies save lives.

Who Needs Screening

For average-risk individuals, screening colonoscopies should start at age 45. People at higher risk, including those with a family history of colon cancer or precancerous polyps, should start screening earlier – at age 40 or 10 years before the youngest case in their family.

Additionally, patients with risk factors such as bleeding, unexplained weight loss, iron deficiency, anemia and changes in bowel habits should speak to their providers about getting a colonoscopy.

As patients get older, colon cancer risk rises – nearly 90% of new cases happen in those 50 and older. Check with your doctor on when to start screening based on your risk factors. Starting at the right age provides the best chance to catch and remove precancerous polyps before they become cancerous.

Benefits of Getting Screened

The preventative power of colonoscopies lies in their ability to detect precancerous growths before they ever become malignant. These abnormal tissue growths known as polyps can take 10-15 years to transform into cancer. Catching and removing them early prevents colon cancer from developing. Colonoscopies allow doctors to find polyps when they are easiest to treat, before cancer sets in. This early detection and intervention makes colonoscopies the gold standard for cancer prevention.

And the benefits don't stop there. Colonoscopy screenings also diagnose other digestive conditions like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and diverticulosis earlier, when treatment is most effective.

What to Expect During the Procedure

During a colonoscopy, patients lie on their side while a gastroenterologist inserts a thin, flexible tube with a camera on the end (colonoscope) into the rectum. Video from the camera displays on a monitor as the doctor gently maneuvers the scope through the entire colon. If any polyps or abnormal tissue are spotted, specialized instruments can remove them during the procedure. The scope also inflates the colon slightly with air to give the camera a better view. Patients are given anesthesia and rarely feel discomfort. The procedure itself typically takes less than an hour, although you must arrive earlier for prep and recovery afterwards.

Colonoscopy complications are exceedingly rare given the extensive screening, preparation and use of anesthesia. The most common side effect is mild bloating or cramping from lingering air that quickly resolves. Recovery is fast – most people feel fine to resume normal activity the day after.

With the short procedure and minimal downtime, getting a screening colonoscopy is extremely safe and convenient.

Next Steps After a Colonoscopy

If polyps were removed, biopsies determine if abnormal cells were present. Most are benign, but cancerous polyps require additional testing and follow-up care. Even with normal results, repeat screenings are vital. Timing depends on personal risk factors. Your provider will determine the best follow-up schedule.

Higher-risk patients may need colonoscopies more frequently. Stay diligent with follow-up appointments and recommended intervals between screenings based on your results. Consistent checks are key for keeping your colon healthy long-term.

Schedule your appointment

Speak with your primary care provider or gastroenterologist about scheduling a screening colonoscopy. They can best assess your risk factors, family history and age guidelines to determine when you should start screening.

Colon cancer is one of the most preventable cancers if caught early through regular checks. “Some polyps don’t turn into cancer, but it’s important to get this screening so we can be sure you’re healthy and prevent anything else from growing,” shares Severson.

 Schedule your appointment at CU Medicine Gastroenterology – Highlands Ranch Specialty Care Center.



CATEGORIES: Health Education

This post was originally posted on 12/26/2023