Senior Health and Wellness:
How Colonoscopies Prevent Colorectal Cancer

Colonoscopies are one of the most important preventative measures for colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women globally. Colonoscopies help to detect any irregularities in the colon before they can become serious issues. This makes them an invaluable tool for preventing colorectal cancer. The proverbial bottom line is that early detection is key to successful treatments of this potentially deadly type of cancer.

Colonoscopy Recommendations

Colonoscopies are currently recommended for individuals starting at age 50. Colonoscopies are recommended earlier if there is a family history of colorectal cancer or if you have other risk factors such as obesity, smoking, or more significant alcohol consumption. In recent times, a growing number of physicians are suggesting that people begin to obtain colonoscopies in their 40s, even if there is no history of colon cancer in their family tree.

Prepping for a Colonoscopy

Preparing for a colonoscopy is undertaken under the supervision of a medical professional. In fairness, it is important to note that it is not the most pleasant experience for most individuals. The Mayo Clinic has set forth a brief explanation of what is involved in prepping for a colonoscopy:

  • Follow a special diet the day before the exam. Typically, you won’t be able to eat solid food the day before the exam. Drinks may be limited to clear liquids — plain water, tea, and coffee without milk or cream, broth, and carbonated beverages. Avoid red liquids, which can be mistaken for blood, during the colonoscopy. You may not be able to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before the exam.
  • Take a laxative. Your doctor will usually recommend taking a prescription laxative, usually in a large volume in either pill form or liquid form. In most instances, you will be instructed to take the laxative the night before your colonoscopy, or you may be asked to use the laxative both the night before and the morning of the procedure.
  • Adjust your medications. Remind your doctor of your medications at least a week before the exam – especially if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, or if you take medications or supplements containing iron.

Overview of the Colonoscopy Procedure

According to the Mayo Clinic, during most colonoscopies, a patient is sedated, or anesthesia is used. This is combined with pain medication given directly into your bloodstream or intravenously to lessen discomfort.

A patient begins the exam lying on his or her side on the exam table. Once sedated, the doctor will insert a colonoscope into the patient’s rectum.

The scope is long enough to reach the entire length of your colon. It contains a light and a tube or channel that permits the doctor to pump air, carbon dioxide, or water into your colon. The air or carbon dioxide inflates the colon, providing a better view of the colon’s lining.

The colonoscope also contains a tiny video camera at its tip. The camera sends images to an external monitor. This allows the doctor to study the inside of the colon in real time.

The doctor can also insert instruments through the channel. This allows the doctor to take tissue samples or biopsies and remove polyps or any other abnormal tissue discovered during the examination.

A colonoscopy typically takes approximately 30 to 60 minutes. Absent abnormal findings, a person typically will not have to obtain another colonoscopy for ten years.

Removal or Polyps

In addition to detecting potential malignancies in the colon during a colonoscopy, another important function of this procedure is its ability to remove any polyps which may be present. Polyps are small growths on the inner lining of the large intestine, which can be benign or precancerous. If left untreated, some polyps can develop into colorectal cancers over time. During a colonoscopy, these polyps can be removed and tested for malignancy before they become dangerous. This reduces a person’s risk of developing colorectal cancers significantly. A colonoscopy truly can be potentially lifesaving.

Five Essential Facts About Colorectal Cancer

When considering the importance of colonoscopies, it is also valuable to consider five essential facts about colorectal cancer:

  • Colorectal cancer, also known as bowel cancer, is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women and the second leading cause of death from cancer worldwide. It occurs in the colon or rectum, parts of the large intestine. Although anyone can get colorectal cancer, certain factors increase risk, such as obesity, drinking alcohol to excess, and smoking. Symptoms of colorectal cancer include:
    • Change in bowel habits like constipation or diarrhea lasting for more than a few days
    • Abdominal pain or cramping
    • Bloody stools
    • Rectal bleeding
    • Anemia
  • Keep in mind that these symptoms may not be present in all cases. Therefore, it is important to know one’s risk factors to receive appropriate screening tests.
  • Early detection of colorectal cancer is key; when it is detected at its earliest stage, there is a higher rate of successful treatment, with long-term survival rates estimated at 90 percent. Screening tests vary based on age and risk factors but may include a fecal occult blood test, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy. All individuals over the age of 50 or even younger should be screened routinely for colorectal cancer regardless if they have any symptoms or not.
  • Treatment options for colorectal cancer depend on multiple factors, including whether the tumor has spread outside of the colon or rectum and how far it has spread if it has metastasized. Common treatments include surgery to remove parts of the tumor along with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy drugs which target specific proteins found within the tumor cells rather than throughout the body as traditional chemotherapy drugs do.
  • Lifestyle choices can lower the risk of colorectal cancer. These include:
    • Eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of fiber-rich foods like fruits and vegetables
    • Exercising regularly
    • Avoiding smoking
    • Limiting alcohol intake

Five Diet Tips to Lower Risk of Colorectal Cancer

As mentioned in this article, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States. It affects an estimated 140,000 Americans each year. Colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of death from cancer in both men and women. As was also noted previously, many cases of colorectal cancer can be prevented or avoided with lifestyle changes and certain dietary habits. Five diet strategies can help to lower the risk of developing colorectal cancer:

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber which can play a role in decreasing the risk of colorectal cancer. Increase your intake to at least 2 to 3 servings per day for optimal benefits. Foods with strong anti-cancer properties include broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, tomatoes, and citrus fruits.
  • Include whole grains in your diet: Whole grains such as brown rice and oats contain healthy amounts of insoluble fiber that can reduce inflammation and protect against colorectal cancer. Additionally, whole grains provide essential B vitamins, which promote healthy digestion and nutrient absorption. Make sure to include at least 3 servings of whole grains in your daily diet for optimal health benefits.
  • Choose lean proteins: Foods like chicken, fish, eggs, and beans are all high-quality sources of protein that are low in saturated fat, which decreases inflammation throughout the body that could otherwise increase your risk for developing colorectal cancer down the road. Aim for about 0.8 – 1 gram of protein per kilogram (one pound) body weight each day for optimal nutrition levels without putting yourself at risk for disease development later on.
  • Avoid processed meats: Processed meats such as deli meat, sausages, or hot dogs have been shown to potentially increase the chances of developing colorectal cancer due to their high sodium content and lack of beneficial nutrients such as fiber or antioxidants found in natural proteins like chicken or fish.
  • Be mindful when consuming alcohol: While it’s well-known that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to various types of cancer, including colorectal, some studies suggest that even moderate amounts may slightly increase a person’s risk over time if consumed frequently enough. To stay safe, many physicians recommend that a person sticks to no more than one drink per day if you do choose to consume alcohol.

Colonoscopies Are Not a Proverbial “Cure-All” but Can Be Lifesaving

In conclusion, a senior and his or her family need to remember that colonoscopies do not prevent all instances of colorectal cancer. However, colonoscopies offer a way for doctors to detect the disease before it has progressed too far. Studies have shown that regular colonoscopy screening can reduce colorectal cancer deaths by up to 60 percent. This makes getting screened every 10 years after age 50 or even earlier an important part of staying healthy.