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Ask A Doc – Dr. Whitney Jennings

A weekly column addressing your most sought-after health questions, answered by Harbin Clinic’s expert healthcare professionals

Question: Is it time for me to get a colonoscopy? If so, what can I expect?

Dr. H. Whitney Jennings, MD: Colon cancer is the 3rd most common cancer and cause of cancer related deaths in this country, but fortunately it is a very preventable cancer with the use of a screening colonoscopy.

Most individuals with average risk will get their first colonoscopy between the ages of 45-50. Initiating screening at an earlier age is highly recommended when there is a family history of colon cancer or advanced colon polyps. In patients without polyps or a family history, then it is recommended that patients can wait 10 years in between each colonoscopy. This interval is shorter in the setting of polyps and/or a family history of colon cancer. We are unfortunately seeing a trend of colon cancer developing at earlier ages in this country, so waiting until you are 50 for a colonoscopy may not be early enough. For this reason it is very important to notify your doctor about symptoms such as rectal bleeding, change in bowel habits, or abdominal pain.

Colon cancer starts out as abnormal growths in the colon referred to as polyps. Most polyps in the colon are pre-cancerous and if left in the colon, have the risk of transforming into cancer over time. Remember that although colon cancer is common, it can be very treatable with adequate colon cancer screening. During a colonoscopy, we are able to not only identify the polyps, but also safely remove them at the time of the exam.

A colonoscopy is a safe and effective screening tool to prevent colon cancer, and should not be feared. It is a procedure where a trained gastroenterologist uses a small flexible fiber optic scope to evaluate the colon while the patient is comfortably sedated. A bowel prep is required the day prior to your colonoscopy, and fortunately we have had improvements and variations in the bowel prep regimen that make it easier for the patient.

The physicians at Harbin Clinic Gastroenterology and Hepatology provide personalized and comprehensive care for the digestive tract and liver diseases. Should you or anyone you know need assistance to guide you through colon cancer prevention or evaluate any development of symptoms of the gastrointestinal tract, our team is ready to provide complete care.

Published September 5, 2020

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