Are you dreading your first colonoscopy? It’s okay – you’re not alone. It’s probably not the 50th birthday present you’re most excited about. But starting regular screening to prevent colorectal cancer is one of the most important gifts you can give yourself. If you’re age 50 or older and you’ve not had screening yet, it’s time to take action.

When to screen and how

The American Cancer Society recommends that you talk with your doctor about screening as early as age 45 as your risk for colorectal cancer increases with age. Additional risk factors include:

  • Having a sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Overusing alcohol
  • Being obese

Start by having a conversation with your doctor about what screening test is best for you. Screening options may include simple tests you can do at home, such as a fecal occult blood test, a fecal immunochemical test, or a stool DNA test.

Who should have a colonoscopy?

For some people, a colonoscopy is the best screening option. This may be true if you have a higher risk of colorectal cancer:

  • A family history of colorectal cancer, especially if the cancer was diagnosed before age 60.
  • A history of inflammatory bowel disease, including ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
  • A genetic condition such as Lynch syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis.

What to expect during a colonoscopy

Your doctor will walk you through how to prepare for a colonoscopy. The preparation may not be fun, but it’s one day. And finding a polyp early is worth it. Prep usually includes eating a special diet the day before and taking a medicine to help clean out your colon.

On the day of your procedure, you’ll be able to drink sips of water, but not eat until after your test. You’ll get a sedative to keep you comfortable during the test – most people don’t remember a thing.

A colonoscopy is considered the “gold standard” test because it is the best way to see the entire colon and look for any problems. Your doctor will take images of any polyps and may remove them or do a biopsy.

Afterward, you’ll rest until the sedative wears off. Most people can go home about an hour after the test is done. You should not drive or make any major decisions until the sedative wears off completely in about 24 hours. Your doctor will let you know when to expect results.

You may feel slightly bloated and have some discharge, especially if you had a biopsy.

Two days of mild discomfort is a small price to pay to prevent colorectal cancer. Let Colorectal Cancer Awareness month be your call to action – make an appointment today.