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Colon Cancer Screening

What are the symptoms of colon cancer?

Unfortunately, the symptoms of colon cancer may not begin until the tumor is large, but may consist of rectal bleeding, changes in the diameter of the bowel movement or constipation. If cancer is diagnosed before it is large, the results of treatment will be better.

Where does colon cancer come from?

Many colon cancers arise in small growths called polyps. Not all polyps become cancers, but we know that larger polyps are more likely to become cancerous. We also know that if we remove polyps, we reduce the risk of colon cancer substantially.

How are colon polyps found and removed?

Detection of microscopic amounts of blood, not visible to the eye, may be the first clue that polyps are present. An x-ray called a barium enema may detect larger polyps, but has been shown to be a weak test for polyps. The best exam is by fiberoptic sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. These scope exams allow direct viewing of the inside of the colon. Furthermore, when polyps are found, they can be removed by a small wire snare and retrieved for examination by a trained pathologist.

What if I have polyps?

You will need a regular colonoscopy to make sure any new polyps are removed, keeping your cancer risk as low as possible. The exams are usually necessary every 2-5 years if polyps are discovered.

Who needs colon cancer screening?

Anyone can be a candidate for evaluation if they are having symptoms. Screening refers to evaluation of otherwise normal, healthy individuals. Current guidelines suggest a yearly rectal exam as young as age 40, but the use of x-rays or scope procedures is usually reserved until age 50. If you have a family history of colon cancer or polyps particularly if the relative was younger than 50 at diagnosis, you may be recommended for testing at a younger age.

How exactly is colonoscopy performed?

First, the bowel is cleansed. The patient is then sedated and a lighted flexible scope is steered through the colon, examining the lining for abnormalities. This procedure is done in an outpatient endoscopy suite. Sigmoidoscopy is usually an office procedure and doesn't require sedation, but the exam doesn't reach the entire colon.

Does my insurance cover colon screening?

Medicare now covers screening colonoscopy. Many commercial health insurers also realize the good sense involved in paying to prevent colon cancer rather than waiting for it to occur. Your doctor will pre-certify the procedure with your health plan. Remember...screening means a test in a patient with no symptoms. If you are having symptoms such as rectal bleeding, you may need examination at any age, and your health plan will almost always cover evaluation for symptoms.

What if I think I need a screening?

Consult your family doctor for advice. He or she can determine your level of risk and refer you to a surgeon or gastroenterologist who is experienced in colon evaluation. If you don't have a family doctor, you may contact our office for an evaluation.