If you’re over 50, it’s time for a colonoscopy


Cancer patients often have this unbelievable clarity about what’s important in life. It’s so refreshing to be around their positive outlook – despite their current situation. We embrace the opportunity to help them when they need it most.

It’s the patients who motivate us to provide that help. But in some cases, patients can help themselves, too.

Colon cancer is a good example. It’s rare in oncology to have tools that can detect the cancer before it develops or in early stages and directly improve outcomes. Colonoscopies are currently the most precise way to discover or rule out colon cancer. Anyone over age 50 or who has had a close relative diagnosed with colon cancer should get a colonoscopy.

We know, the term makes people cringe. But it may not be as bad as you think, and the potential benefits are off the charts.

Making the case for a colonoscopy

During a colonoscopy, we look for cancerous tumors and also check polyps that have the potential to turn into colon cancer. Polyps are small tissue growths commonly found inside the colon and other parts of an adult’s body.

The vast majority of colonoscopies are negative, but that shouldn’t dissuade you from getting one. Most of our patients are relieved after the procedure and are glad they can rest easy about colon cancer for up to 10 more years.

Many people are diagnosed with colon cancer before they have any symptoms of the disease, such as abdominal pain, a change in bowel movements, and bleeding. Lots of people believe they can’t have colon cancer if they’re feeling fine, and that’s just not true.

Many colon cancer patients say they felt just fine before the diagnosis. This, in fact, is often the case.

Any kind of cancer diagnosis is frightening, but most patients diagnosed with colon cancer have a potentially solvable problem. Many patients can be treated with a common surgical procedure that doesn’t dramatically impact their life.

Other treatment options for colon cancer, such as chemotherapy and radiation, can also be effective for those who need them. One patient was actually upset because he was feeling so well during treatment! He had the perception that he would be sick throughout his treatments, and he felt like we weren’t giving him the medication he needed. Treatment methods have come a long way in this regard.

At UT Southwestern in Dallas, we diagnose about 150 cases of colon cancer each year. If you’re over 50, we hope you’ll consider a colonoscopy.

What happens during a colonoscopy?

The process of getting a colonoscopy takes about 30 minutes. The day prior to the procedure, the patient drinks a product to clean the colon, which results in several bowel movements that are necessary for the procedure.

When the patient arrives for the colonoscopy, he or she is given an IV and some fairly strong sedative medication. Most patients don’t remember the procedure.

In a very private and discrete way, a flexible camera is inserted anally through the colon. Along with the sedative drugs, pain medication is given.

Most patients can go home within an hour or two following the procedure. Due to the sedation, they must be driven home. Most people don’t take more than a day off work.

The patient may experience some extra gas for a couple of days.

The risk of a complication, such as a rupture or perforation of the colon, is less than 1 percent at a high-volume center like ours here in Dallas.

Take control of your health

Don’t rely on your doctor to remind you about getting a colonoscopy. If you’re over 50, it’s time to make an appointment.

Colonoscopies are the most accurate way to detect colon cancer and polyps, but there are other approved screening methods, including:

Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) – The FIT test is designed to detect microscopic blood in a stool sample, which can be a sign of colon cancer. The patient simply applies his or her stool sample to a FIT card and mails it to a lab for analysis. The test is recommended annually and can be completed at home.

Computer Tomographic (CT) Colonography – Also called a “virtual colonoscopy,” this test uses a CT scan to produce an image of the colon that can identify cancerous tumors or polyps. The patient does not need to be sedated, and can return to normal activities quicker. The test is recommended every five years.

There are so many reasons to pay attention to your colon health but essentially it comes down to this:

If we don’t catch colon cancer at an early stage, it has the potential to turn from a solvable problem into an unsolvable one.

If you’re over 50, it’s not a risk worth taking. It’s easy to request an appointment online or to learn more about this preventable disease.