When Do I Start And How Often Must I Go For A Colonoscopy?
If you go to an abdominal pain specialist in Singapore for any gastrointestinal complaints such as changes in bowel habits, blood in your stools, or abdominal discomfort, your doctor may suggest you get a colonoscopy as part of the diagnosis process. What exactly is a colonoscopy, and how often is it needed?
What is a colonoscopy?
This procedure is a low-risk one that allows doctors to examine the inner walls of one’s colon and rectum using a specialised tool – the colonoscope.
The colonoscope is a long, flexible tube with a camera mounted at the end. This tube is inserted through the anus to reach the rectum and colon so that the doctor can view the inner walls through the camera. During the procedure, the colonoscope also allows the doctor to remove any small growths (for example, polyps) or collect sample tissues for further testing (this is called a biopsy).
Getting a colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure, meaning that you won’t have to be warded in the hospital. However, you will need to carry out some preparatory steps before you go for your colonoscopy appointment.
What to expect when getting a colonoscopy
Patients going for a colonoscopy will be given some laxatives prior to their procedure. This is usually taken at least 24 hours before their appointment to empty out the bowels. In addition, patients are to drink only clear liquids during this time.
On the day of the colonoscopy, the patient will lie on their side and be sedated, typically through the use of an intravenous line. Although the procedure should not be painful, it can be uncomfortable and may cause sensations of abdominal cramping or bloating.
Then, the specialist will insert the colonoscope into the rectum to look for any abnormalities such as growths, ulcers, inflammation and bleeding. Polyps or small biopsy samples may be excised (cut off) for further testing.
Once the procedure is done, the doctor will gently remove the colonoscope and bring the patient to a resting area to rest until the sedative wears off.
When should I get a colonoscopy?
Some people only undergo a colonoscopy when they are already facing prolonged gastrointestinal issues. However, colonoscopy is also a recommended routine screening method for more serious ailments like colorectal cancer.
An individual’s chances of contracting colon cancer increase with age. HealthHub Singapore recommends adults at normal risk of colon cancer commence going for colonoscopy screenings from age 50 onwards, at 5 to 10-year intervals.
However, individuals who are at a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer should begin screening sooner and also go for them at shorter intervals. Below are some guiding questions that can help you determine when you should get your first colonoscopy and how often you need to get re-screened.
Do you have a family history of colon cancer?
Individuals with family members or first-degree relatives who have been diagnosed with colon cancer should minimally begin screening at 40 years of age. If you have relatives who developed colon cancer at a young age, you should begin screening ten years before the age at which they were diagnosed.
If colon cancer in your family is known to be hereditary, screening may be recommended as early as age 20 to 25 years.
Do you have any history of cancer?
Anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer in the past, especially cancers of the intestinal tract, should be screened for colon cancer regularly and more often, even after they have recovered from their previous illness. For those who have had colon cancer, ovarian cancer, or endometrial cancer, doctors recommend colonoscopy one year after resection (i.e. the operation to remove the cancer cells).
Have you had any polyps removed in the past?
If you have gone for a colonoscopy before and your doctor mentioned that there were polyps found, you should go for a follow-up colonoscopy within five years. For low-risk polyps, the follow-up should be within 3 to 5 years. For high-risk polyps, the follow-up should be within 1 to 3 years.
Have you been diagnosed with other gastrointestinal diseases?
Inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease put individuals at higher risk of developing colon cancer. Hepatitis B has also been associated with a higher incidence of cancer.
Doctors usually recommend a higher frequency of colonoscopy screenings for individuals with related gastrointestinal diseases. The recommended plan is every 1 to 2 years.
Colonoscopy is not just for those currently facing gastrointestinal issues. Even if you feel perfectly healthy, getting your colonoscopy done on schedule can be a lifesaver for you by detecting any colon-related problems early.
If you find that you are at a higher risk of getting colon cancer or have just passed your 50th birthday, this is also a sign that it’s time to visit a gastroenterologist to plan for your first or next colonoscopy. Besides screening and diagnostics, the right expert can also provide advice on colon cancer treatment in Singapore and partner you in battling any gut health issues you may discover.