I had my first colonoscopy after the birth of my daughter. My digestive system was all out of whack. Just to make sure that I didn’t have anything major going on, my doctor ordered the colonoscopy. I really had no idea what to expect. It just felt like every time I mentioned the word colonoscopy, people made a face or grunted, and would make comments like, “Good luck with that.” I really didn’t understand what all that was about until I started the prep and, yeah, it was not that fun…but it’s necessary. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and a great time to check in with Janice Rafferty, MD
, from The Christ Hospital Physicians - Colon & Rectal Surgery.
What is the recommended age to get a colonoscopy?
I had my first colonoscopy as a part of medical issue that I was having, but I learned from Dr. Rafferty that the average age you should start getting regular colonoscopies is 45. It was just lowered from 50 recently by American Cancer Society. The recommended age to begin getting them for African Americans has usually been 5 years earlier.
Colon cancer is unfortunately on the rise amongst younger people, and that’s the reason the screening age recommendation has been lowered to 45. Dr. Rafferty said, “The reason for younger people being diagnosed is not completely clear. It may be the availability of colonoscopy, patients paying more attention to their bowel habits and seeking help with problems…or triggers in the environment that incite abnormal growth of abnormal cells in the colon and other places.”
Prepping for the procedure
Unfortunately, I learned that the prep for the colonoscopy has not changed. Dr. Rafferty said that the prep is the worst part. No matter what medications you take, the result is lots of diarrhea, since the bowel has to be completely cleaned out. This allows the endoscopist to clearly see the lining of the colon. I laughed when she told me that the only things to make it easier are three-ply toilet paper and a nice barrier cream. Ha!
Going through the process of a colonoscopy really should be an entire day event. The procedure itself only takes 30-60 minutes. But signing in, getting an IV and post-procedure recovery make it a 2-3 hour stay in the endoscopy department. Most people have sedation for their procedure, and, as a result, cannot drive or make major decisions for the next 24 hours.
You may need a referral to get a colonoscopy, but it really depends on your insurance. In general, if you are 45 and your plan allows it, you should be able to call the gastroenterology office and ask to schedule an age-appropriate screening colonoscopy. If you are having symptoms of a problem—bleeding, pain, change in bowel habits, a call to your primary care physician is in order.Early detection is key
It is important to remember that the key to colon cancer prevention is early detection. Know your family history. If you have relatives with cancer in the colon, uterus, urinary system, or breast, you may be at increased risk for colon cancer. If you’re experiencing changes in bowel habits, discuss it with your primary care physician and ask specifically if a colonoscopy should be ordered.Learn more about colonoscopy at The Christ Hospital or find a gastroenterologist near you.