No one looks forward to getting a colonoscopy, an internal exam of your colon. But colon cancer kills 51,000 people in the U.S. every year. And periodic colonoscopies can detect abnormal cells in your colon early, cutting your chances of getting and dying from colon cancer. When should you get your first colonoscopy? How often should you get more? These are great questions for the surgeons at the Center for Minimally Invasive and Robotic Surgery, who use the most advanced methods to prevent the disease or catch it early.

What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is an examination that looks at your colon and rectum to hunt for any changes, lumps, or bumps that might be or become colon cancer.

During the exam, a long and flexible tube with a tiny camera at the end is inserted into your rectum and into your colon. The camera lets the doctor see the walls of your colon. If your doctor spots any polyps or other abnormal tissue, he can snip off a bit for examination under a microscope.

You’ll be asleep during the procedure and feel no pain. The worst part is the prep, when you’ll have to drink a laxative that cleans your colon out completely, so the doctor can get a clear view of your colon.

Why should I get a colonoscopy?

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is a beast. It’s the third most common cancer in the U.S. and is expected to kill about 51,000 people nationwide in 2019, according to the American Cancer Society.

If your parent, sibling, or child has had CRC, you have an above-average risk of developing the disease, too, because 30% of CRC patients have a family history of the disease.

A colonoscopy can detect and remove benign polyps that cause 75% to 80% of colon cancers. The exam can reduce mortality from CRC by 89%, studies show.

When should I get my first colonoscopy?

That depends on how likely you are to get colon cancer.

The American Cancer Society, which recently updated its colorectal screening guidelines, lowered the age that adults with average risk should get their screenings from 50 to 45.

Screenings, depending on availability and patient preference, can include:

  • Annual fecal tests
  • Stool DNA test every three years
  • A CT colonography or flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years
  • Colonoscopy every 10 years

If you’ve had a first-degree relative who had CRC at 60 or younger, you should begin screening at age 40, or 10 years before the age your first-degree relative was diagnosed. For example, if your mother’s CRC was diagnosed when she was 50, you should begin screenings at 40.

Are you getting to the age when you should have your first colonoscopy? Contact the Center for Minimally Invasive and Robotic Surgery for an appointment, or call 623-227-2581.

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