Colon Cancer Screening
For Cancer Prevention
Colon cancer is one of the most common — and preventable — types of cancers in both men and women. If you’re 45 or older, it’s important to get a colonoscopy, a procedure that examines the inside of the large intestine (colon). If you have a family history of the disease or certain conditions affecting the colon, you may need to get this important exam earlier.
“Patients don’t have to go someplace where they’re not comfortable; they don’t have to travel far from home. Everything is right here, and we’re proud to provide this necessary care to North County.”
Olayiwola Olagbegi, MD
Olayiwola Olagbegi, MD, a BJC Medical Group gastroenterologist and medical director of endoscopy at Christian Hospital, has dedicated his career to serving patients in this community. “Because of the overwhelming success of colon cancer detection by screening colonoscopies, the disease has become one of the most preventable forms of cancer,” Dr. Olagbegi says. “Colon cancer is highly treatable with 90% of patients beating it when detected early.”
Colon cancer screening and why it’s important
The American Cancer Society recommends that people at average risk of colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45 and continue regular colorectal cancer screening through the age of 75. Colon cancer screening is recommended every 10 years for those at average risk.
Earlier and more frequent screening is recommended for those at high risk. You may be considered high risk if you or your family have any of the following:
- a personal history of colon cancer or polyps (small growths)
- a family history of colon cancer or polyps
- a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
- a family history with three generations of uterine, ovarian or breast cancer
Screening plays a critical role in early detection, allowing for easier treatment and fewer complications and dramatically reducing the chance of advanced disease and death from colon cancer.
What is a colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is a procedure that examines the inside of the large intestine (colon) and rectum with a colonoscope — a flexible tube about the width of a finger with a light and small video camera on the end. This tube is passed through the rectum and into the large intestine. Special instruments can be passed through the colonoscope to biopsy (take a sample) or remove any suspicious-looking areas such as polyps, if needed.
What does the screening look for?
A colon cancer screening, or colonoscopy, can detect pre-cancerous polyps. These polyps typically take eight to 10 years to grow into cancer, so the screening gives the opportunity to find and remove them, preventing the progression to cancer.
When is a colonoscopy performed?
The most common reasons for a doctor to prescribe a colonoscopy are to:
- Look for signs of colorectal cancer or polyps (small growths)
- Colonoscopy is recommended as a routine test for anyone over 45 years of age
- If a person has a family history of colorectal cancer or a higher risk for cancer, screenings may be recommended before 45 years of age
- Diagnose and possibly treat bleeding and causes of blood in stool
- Diagnose the reason for chronic diarrhea
- Screen the colon if abnormal results come back from a stool or barium enema test
- Diagnose inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Diagnose the reason for unexplained abdominal pain
How to prepare for a colonoscopy
It is very important that the colon be empty (free of stool) before a colonoscopy so that a complete view of the colon can be seen during the procedure. Patients will receive specific instructions from their gastroenterologist, but typically a clear liquid diet will be prescribed for one to two days prior to the test, which only allows for liquids such as fat-free broth, water, plain coffee or tea, and diet soda. Popsicles or Jello may be allowed, except for flavors that are red in color. Laxatives taken the night before and the morning of the test will ensure the colon is free from any obstructions.
What to expect during a colonoscopy
The patient receives sedatives before the procedure, and pain is not associated with a colonoscopy. The gastroenterologist will guide a colonoscope through the colon and take images and videos during the process that he/she can watch on a monitor. The gastroenterologist examines the lining of the colon to look for inflammation, diagnose reasons for abnormal bowel movements, or find signs of cancerous tissue. If diseased tissue is found, the doctor may take biopsy specimens (tiny bits of tissue) or remove polyps (small growths).
Women who are pregnant and people who have abdominal infections or diverticulitis have higher chances of complications from a colonoscopy and should only have a colonoscopy if a doctor deems it necessary.
Is having a Colonoscopy the only way to screen for colon cancer?
Patients have many screening options available at Christian Hospital:
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
- CT Colonography
However, a colonoscopy is revered as the gold standard with the ability to detect cancer, take biopsies (removing a small piece of suspicious tissue to examine) and remove polyps. For this reason, it is the most common and most recommended screening offered by the Christian Hospital team.
“While we would love for every patient to have a colonoscopy as their screening, if there is some barrier – whether that be current health, location, cost, insurance or just patient fear – we have other alternatives,” says Dr. Olagbegi. “The best screening tool is the tool the patient accepts, so we encourage patients to just get screened, whichever option they choose.”
The best way to prevent colon cancer is to get screened. For more information or to schedule an appointment with a Christian Hospital gastroenterologist for a screening, call 314.747.9355 or request an appointment.
Christian Hospital and Northwest HealthCare, members of BJC HealthCare, provide world-class medical care to the communities of North County, Greater St. Louis County and Southern Illinois.