Common Colonoscopy Questions... Answered!

While not always pleasant, colon cancer screening can be lifesaving.

ByABC News
August 17, 2010, 10:01 PM

Aug. 18, 2010— -- Colonoscopy might not be the most pleasant topic for the dinner table, but it could allow you to have a lot more of those enjoyable evening conversations. Experts estimate that if everyone were screened for colon cancer, we could save about 20,000 lives a year. So it's important to talk about how yours could be one of them.

What Is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.

Most colorectal cancers arise from small growths inside the colon, called polyps. Not all polyps are pre-cancerous, and most polyps that develop into cancer do so very slowly, which is why screening is so helpful -- finding polyps early, and removing them, can prevent them from ever turning into cancer. In addition, finding cancer in its early stages is much easier to treat than in its later stages.

The biggest risk factors are age -- it is quite rare below age 40 -- and family history.

How Can I Catch Polyps or Colorectal Cancer Early?

Screening is recommended for all adults 50-75 years old, and earlier for people with certain risk factors. There are a few different options for screening available, and you can talk with your doctor about what works for you. According to Dr. Lee Green, professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan, the most important thing is to be screened, not the method you use. The tests recommended by both Green and by the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) are: