Call Us 866.600.CARE

Providers Weigh In: Colonoscopy Can Save Your Life

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among men and women in the United States combined. Most colon cancers begin as polyps, which are abnormal growths inside the colon or rectum (parts of the large intestine), that may become cancerous if not removed. Finding and removing these polyps can prevent colorectal cancer.

“If caught early, colon cancer is up to 90 percent beatable,” says Dr. Barbara Jung, division chief of gastroenterology and hepatology at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System. “Screening is the most effective way to reduce the risk of the disease because it finds cancer in the early stages or before it even has the chance to grow or develop.”  

Barbara H Jung

Barbara H Jung, M.D.

How is Colorectal Cancer screened?

Colonoscopy is the most complete screening method available to identify and remove polyps in a single session. The procedure involves inserting a long and flexible tube with a camera at one end into the anus, advancing it slowly into the rectum and through the colon. Through a colonoscopy a doctor can view the entire length of the large intestine to identify abnormal growths, inflamed tissue, ulcers, and bleeding.

What to expect?

For the screening to be accurate, patients are given detailed instructions to cleanse their colon prior to the examination. Generally, this includes consumption of a large quantity of special cleansing solution or undergoing clear liquid diet for a few days.

Sedatives usually are given to minimize discomfort. Patients will lie on their left side or back as the colonoscope is slowly advanced. Once the tip of the colon is reached, the colonoscope is slowly withdrawn to examine the inner lining of the colon. If an abnormality is found, a biopsy may be done. If polyps are found, they can almost always be removed during the colonoscopy.

What happens after the procedure?

The process usually takes 15 to 20 minutes. Patients will be kept in an observation area for 1 to 2 hours post-procedure until the effects of medications adequately wear off. Because the sedatives will impair the reflexes and judgment, making it unsafe to drive, it is highly recommended that the patient gets driven home by a friend or family member.
Before the patient leaves the hospital, the findings of the screening can be discussed by a specialist. A patient may have to wait for a few days to get a definitive diagnosis if a biopsy has been performed.

“Colonoscopy is the best method available to detect, diagnose, and treat abnormalities within the colon,” Dr. Jung says. “Individual risk factors — such as lifestyle, ethnicity, and family history — will determine when screening should be started. But for most adults, it is recommended that they get screened once they reach the age 50. Depending on their results, they may only need to be re-screened every 10 years.”

To learn about the colorectal cancer screening program at UI Health, click here.