Screening Colonoscopy: an ultra-brief primer

This will serve as an ultra-short “primer,” or introduction, on colorectal cancer screening using colonoscopy. Additional, detailed posts will follow later this year for those who are interested.

A colonoscope is a flexible tube (approximately the diameter of a thumb/finger) with a camera and light at one end that is used by an expert physician to image and sample any potential lesions within the colon and small intestine. The term “lesion” is a broad term that refers to any number of abnormalities within the lumen of the gastrointestinal tract. During a routine screening colonoscopy, we carefully look for polyps. The primary purpose is to identify polyps before they grow and transform into a malignant (cancerous) growth. From a technical perspective, it is far easier (and routine) to remove pre-canceorus/pre-malignant polyps.

Gastroenterologists are physicians (MD or DO) who are skilled in the management of a myriad of gastrointestinal diseases as well as routine screening/surveillance programs. Screening patients who are either average-risk or high-risk for colorectal cancer (also termed “malignancy”) is commonly prescribed; colorectal cancer screening programs are backed by well-established screening protocols from leading gastroenterological and cancer societies.

Screening colonoscopies are typically painless and are performed with the help of an anesthesiologist (you are sleepy for the duration of the procedure). However, like any medical procedure, there are (very rare) risks to the procedure. Discuss these with your gastroenterologist and/or primary care provider.

Despite the stress and uncertainly of the pandemic, please be sure you seek out your primary care doctor and/or gastroenterologist to discuss whether colorectal cancer screening is right for you!

Photo by The Matter of Food.

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