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Clinical Q&A: Colorectal Cancer Screening

What you should know about Colorectal Cancer Screening

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women in this country. Screening by colonoscopy can prevent cancer or find it at an early stage. During screening, a doctor looks for polyps (abnormal tissue growth) or cancer. If precancerous polyps are found, they can be removed before they turn into the cancer.

We spoke with Dr. Alex Teixeira, Beth Israel Deaconess Gastroenterologist, to learn more about common questions people have about colonoscopies.

Q: When should I have a colonoscopy or other colorectal cancer screening?

- People at average risk of colorectal cancer should start regular screening at age 45.

- People who are in good health and with a life expectancy of more than 10 years should continue regular colorectal cancer screening through the age of 75.

- People ages 76 through 85 should make a decision with their medical provider about whether to be screened, based on their own personal preferences, life expectancy, overall health, and prior screening history.

- People over 85 should no longer get colorectal cancer screening.1

However, your doctor may recommend screening before the age of 45 if you: 

- Have had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer in the past. 
- Have close family members with a history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer. 
- Have inflammatory bowel disease, Chron’s disease, or ulcerative colitis. 
- Have a genetic condition that increases your chance of colon cancer, such as familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).

Q: How often should I get a colonoscopy?
Colonoscopies are recommended every 10 years from the age of 45. However, your physician will provide information on follow-up procedures based on your needs.

Q: What might a colonoscopy detect?
Colonoscopy can detect abnormalities in the colon and rectum, such as polyps, that may lead to colorectal cancer. Early detection and removal of polyps reduce your chances of developing colorectal cancer.

Q: What can I eat the day before a colonoscopy?
While you will need to avoid solid foods the day before, you may have clear liquids like water, clear broth, coffee and tea (without milk), ice, or gelatin (except red gelatin) up to several hours before the procedure. Please follow the specific instructions provided by your physician.

Q: Will I be awake during the procedure?
A colonoscopy can be performed while you are awake, but you maybe also be put to sleep during the procedure. Even if you are awake, you may be given sedation to help you relax.

Q: What can I expect after a colonoscopy?
It is normal to experience bloating and gas cramps after your colonoscopy. You may also be groggy from sedation, so you should arrange to have someone drive you home. If your doctor took a biopsy or removed polyps, you should receive your results within two weeks.


1 https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/american-cancer-society-updates-colorectal-cancer-screeningguideline.html

BID-Plymouth
275 Sandwich Street
Plymouth, MA 02360
(508) 746-2000

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