Amy Schmidt, MD from Women’s Health Specialists talks about colon cancer and addresses a number of important questions. When do you need a colonoscopy? What are some of the warning signs? What is the age for screening? Is there a magic number? Does it have to do with your family history? What are some of the screening options? How long is the procedure and how long would somebody be out of work for the procedure?
Dr. Schmidt: “Some of the warning signs that are associated with colon cancer are any significant change in a person’s bowel function. Significant worsening in constipation; any change in the caliber of the stools; pencil-thin stools; any blood in the stools, whether it is bright red blood or dark black tarry stools which can be a sign of old blood. If you have any of those signs, a woman should seek the advise of her health care provider.”
“The need for screening is a combination of things. In average-risk women, without a significant family history, it is recommended that screening start at the age of 50. In women who have a history of colon cancer in their family – a first degree relative like a sibling or a parent – then it is recommended that they start screening about ten years before their relative was diagnosed.”
“There are a number of common screening options available – from a simple stool test to a colonoscopy. A Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) is a stool test for the evidence of blood in the stool. The way that test is done is that the patient collects a sample of the stool at home and then drops it off at the lab or sends it in. If that tests positive, then the patient would go on to further testing. If it is negative, then she can be reassured that everything looks fine. That is a test that should be done every year.”
“The other most commonly used test is the colonoscopy. The day before a colonoscopy, the patient needs to do a bowel prep where they cleanse their colon. Then she goes to the doctor and – under sedation – a camera is inserted in through the anus and it goes throughout the colon to look at the entire colon. If any polyps (which are often the way colon cancer starts) are identified, those can be removed at the same time. If a colonoscopy that is clear and the doctor doesn’t see anything concerning, she don’t have to do anything for ten years.”
“The procedure itself is pretty brief – less than an hour. Typically people would be advised to take that day off. The sedating medications will make them kind of groggy. But the next day, they would be fine to go back to all their normal activities.”