Getting a colonoscopy every 10 years starting at either age 45 or 50 depending on your risk factors is the single best thing you can do to prevent colon cancer. But what if the test reveals cancer is already present? What happens next?
It’s never too late to begin taking steps to protect yourself from colon cancer, the third most common cancer and the third-leading cause of cancer death.
“Even with advancements in treatment, it’s still smart to take steps to prevent colon cancer from developing in the first place,” said Carl Lokko, MD, of AdventHealth Medical Group General Surgery at Calhoun. “To do that, the best tool is a colonoscopy, which allows us to find and remove small growths, called polyps, before they turn into cancer.”
That’s one reason why AdventHealth experts are so passionate about advocating screening. There are many cases of colon cancer that could have been prevented if people had been told to have a screening or followed up on a recommendation or treatment based on their test results.
When you hear a colonoscopy called the “gold standard,” that doesn’t just mean it’s a little better than other options. Often, it means the difference between catching a cancer early or waiting until its spread too far to treat effectively.
How Screening Works
Colon cancer screening isn’t just for people who might have a concern. It’s just as important for people who are healthy, even if you don’t have any symptoms.
Doctors recommend adults should get their first colonoscopy near their 45th birthday. Some people at higher risk — including those with some digestive disorders or a family history of colon cancer — should be tested even earlier.
The power of a colonoscopy is twofold: It can spot cancer early and it can even prevent cancer entirely. This is because polyps turn into colon cancer slowly, usually over years. During a colonoscopy, which involves the use of a narrow flexible tube to inspect the colon and intestines, the doctor can remove these polyps.
By going in preventatively, you can find issues and remove them right away which reduces your risk of ever developing cancer.
There are other tools to find colon cancer, but there are drawbacks that can make them less effective than colonoscopies. Some look at only part of the colon, others miss small tumors, while still others can detect cancer but cannot prevent it.
Some people are afraid of getting a colonoscopy, but the experience has improved greatly in recent years. The preparation typically involves a prescribed laxative the day before the procedure with a sports beverage to wash it down and keep the body’s electrolytes in balance.
The procedure itself happens under sedation; most patients aren’t aware it’s happening.
Though a colonoscopy by itself can’t diagnose colon cancer — a lab report is needed for that — it can provide strong evidence.
Colon Cancer Surgery: What to Expect
Treatment for colorectal cancer can involve radiation and chemotherapy, but surgery to remove the tumor is almost always the most important treatment.
To help patients recover quicker from surgery, opioid usage should be limited. When doctors scale back on opioids, patients don’t have to fast before surgery, which helps them have more strength after surgery and allows them to get up and around sooner. And, the sooner you are up, the better it is for recovery.
If lab analysis of the tumor suggests some cancer cells may have spread, then surgery may be followed up with chemotherapy.
Even if the cancer is gone, patients are followed very closely for five years in case the cancer returns.
For many patients, faith in God is a key element of resilience. In addition to their expertise in treating patients’ cancer, AdventHealth’s caregivers also tend to their mind and spirit.
Our mission of Extending the Healing Ministry of Christ while providing whole-person care is at the core of our care. Our care teams are committed to ensuring you feel cared for throughout the entire process.
“If a patient wants to pray, our care team is happy to pray with them,” said Dr. Lokko. “We also have chaplains can give our patients spiritual guidance and support as they work their way through the treatment and recovery process.”