When you have a colonoscopy for colon cancer screening, the gastroenterologist performing the procedure is looking at the inside of your colon to detect polyps.
Polyps are small growths in the colon that are not yet cancerous, but have the potential to develop into cancer. A polyp that is found during a colonoscopy is removed, which can actually prevent the development of cancer. A pathologist determines if it is a benign polyp or if it is colon cancer. Almost all polyps that are removed are precancerous, meaning that they have not yet progressed to cancer.
The American Cancer Society recently recommended that beginning at age 45, patients undergo a colonoscopy every 10 years. However, more frequent colonoscopies are recommended if a polyp is found. While most major national organizations put no upper age limit on colonoscopy screening, government guidelines suggest people 76 and over talk to their doctor about whether further screening is needed.
Depending on the size and number of polyps, it is recommended that patients undergo a repeat colonoscopy within three to five years, and maybe more frequently depending on the individual risk of the patient.
This series breaks down why colonoscopies are so important, as unpleasant as they may seem. This screening procedure can lead to early detection, and can actually help doctors stop a cancer from growing before it starts.
Is colon cancer really becoming more prevalent in people under the age of 50? Can you skip screening if you don’t have any symptoms? Dr. Heather Yeo has the answers – and explains some common misconceptions.
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