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Colonoscopies & Endoscopies, How Important Are They?

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Colonoscopies & Endoscopies, How Important Are They?

Jan 20, 2022

Colonoscopies and endoscopies are screening procedures doctors use to determine if you have or are at risk for specific digestive health issues. This article will explore what these screenings are used for and how they can help prevent the possibility of something more serious, like cancer.

What Is A Colonoscopy?

Colonoscopies are a test that checks for colon cancer. The colon, also known as the large intestine, makes up the last part of your digestive system. It absorbs water from undigested food and stores waste until it's ready to leave your body. A colonoscopy allows doctors to check inside the colon for abnormal growths called polyps or signs of cancer.

A colonoscope enters through your rectum, allowing doctors to not only look at the colon lining but also take pictures and remove abnormal growths such as polyps.

If polyps are found before they turn into cancer, doctors can often remove them during the colonoscopy. Colon polyps are removed by snaring or grabbing them with forceps through your anus, which can cause bleeding and cramps. Cancerous tumors cannot be reached safely in this way and need surgery to be removed completely.

What Do Colonoscopies Help Prevent? 

Colonoscopies can help find polyps before they turn into colon cancer. But colonoscopy can't prevent colon cancer because it doesn't eliminate the polyps that could become colon cancer. Sometimes colonoscopy may miss these tiny growths or detect them too late for successful treatment.

You should talk with your doctor about getting tested to see if you have precancerous growths in your colon, even if you don't have symptoms, which is especially important if you have a history of colon problems in your family.

When Would My Doctor Recommend A Colonoscopy?

Your doctor might suggest a colonoscopy if you're 50 years old or older or if you're between the ages of 45 and 50 and have one or more colon polyps, chronic diarrhea (loose stools at least twice a day for three months or more), or family history of colon cancer.

What Is An Endoscopy? 

An endoscopy is an exam that allows your doctor to look closely at the inside of your digestive system, including parts of your stomach and small intestine, using a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera (called an endoscope) on one end.

An endoscope usually has two tubes—one that lets water flow into your colon so you can be cleaned out before the procedure, called colon lavage or bowel preparation, and another to help pass the scope through your colon. 

Endoscopies are often done to check for cancer. They can also be used to check for inflammation, ulcers, or bleeding in your colon.

When Might My Doctor Recommend An Endoscopy?

You might need an endoscopy if you have symptoms such as: 

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Blood in your stool
  • Vomiting
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Black stools (feces)
  • Anemia (low red blood cells)
  • Fever
  • Pale gray bowel movements (stool)
  • Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes)

Other possible reasons for having either procedure include:

  • Feel like you haven't thoroughly emptied your colon after a bowel movement.
  • Diarrhea lasts two weeks or more even though you are taking medicine for it.
  • Nausea and vomiting that last two weeks or more.
  • Seizures that don't go away.
  • Regular vomiting of bile (a greenish-yellow fluid made by your liver) or other digestive fluids, such as acid that comes up into the mouth.
  • Severe constipation lasts two weeks or more and doesn't get better with treatment. You may need an endoscopy if colon cancer runs in your family. 
  • If you have colon cancer, your doctor may recommend colon cancer screening tests such as colonoscopy to look for more cancer. If you have a history of cancer in your family, ask your doctor about genetic counseling and testing. 

Why Are People Hesitant To Get Screened?

People might be scared because colonoscopies involve inserting a tube through the rectum and colon. But colonoscopy is a quick procedure—usually only a few minutes. You might have some discomfort when the tube enters your body, but it's generally mild to moderate and quickly goes away after the colonoscope has been inserted.

Some people avoid endoscopies because they're afraid of having anesthesia or getting pain from the air that may be used during the endoscopy to stretch open parts of their digestive tract to allow doctors to look inside.

Your doctor can help you decide whether endoscopy is right for you based on your medical condition and risk factors. Endoscopic procedures are done while you're sedated (not fully asleep but also not awake). Sometimes they're done with just local anesthesia (an injection into the area to numb it).

Carolina Digestive Can Help With Any Questions

To learn more about whether you may need a colonoscopy or endoscopy, or if you’d like to be seen by a physician, contact us today. We treat all gastrointestinal issues and disorders with quality, comprehensive care.