Published on February 17, 2014

Is It Time for Your Colonoscopy? (Why You Shouldn’t Wait) 

In Brief

  • Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, impacting both men and women equally. Colorectal cancer can be prevented—not just detected—by colonoscopy screening.
  • People at increased risk of developing colorectal cancer include people who have a family history of polyps and/or colorectal cancer; people who have a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease; and individuals who smoke cigarettes or are morbidly obese.
  • Individuals with no family history of colon cancer are recommended to have a colonoscopy screening once every 10 years starting at age 50, and for African-Americans starting at age 45; people with certain risk factors are advised to begin colonoscopy screening earlier.

What do Pope John Paul II, Audrey Hepburn, and Ronald Reagan have in

John Seedorf

John Seedor, M.D.

common? They all had colon cancer.

This March, in observance of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, people are encouraged to know their risk factors for colorectal cancer and follow the recommended screening guidelines.

Often when we think of a health screening test, we think of catching diseases like cancer early—which is important and can save lives. The good news with a colonoscopy is that this kind of screening goes a step further and can actually prevent cancer from developing at all.

Immanuel K. Ho

Immanuel K. Ho,

“When we do a screening colonoscopy, we’re not looking for cancer,” explains, John W. Seedor, M.D., director of the Division of Gastroenterology for Taylor Hospital. “We’re looking for polyps (growths within the lining of the colon or rectum) that, if left untreated, could become cancer. That’s a big difference from other kinds of health screenings,” he notes.

“Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, and it impacts both men and women equally. Yet, few Americans know that colorectal cancer can be prevented—not just detected— through screening tests,” echoes Immanuel K. Ho, MD., chief of the Division of Gastroenterology for Crozer-Chester Medical Center.

Who is most at risk?

Mark Jacobs, M.D., chief of the Section of Gastroenterology for Delaware

Mark Jacobs

Mark Jacobs,

County Memorial Hospital, notes that individuals who

are most at risk include people who:

  • have a family history of polyps and/or colorectal cancer
  • are cigarette smokers
  • are morbidly obese
  • have a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease

“The more family members you have with colon cancer, the greater your risk,” Ho adds.  Also, he notes that individuals may be at increased risk if they have family members with other types of cancer, such as cancer of the stomach or uterus.

What are the screening guidelines?

To help you determine when and how often to have a colonoscopy screening, here are some general guidelines:

  • For those with no family history of colon cancer, once every 10 years starting at age 50, and for African-Americans starting at age 45.
  • For those with a family history of colon cancer, once every five years starting at age 40, or 10 years earlier than when their closest relative was diagnosed with colon cancer.
  • For those with inflammatory bowel disease at any age, once every two or three years.          

What happens if a polyp is found?

If a polyp is found during a colonoscopy, it is removed right then and there, while the patient is sedated, Seedor explains. There is no discomfort associated with this procedure, even after the sedation wears off and patients return home, he notes. Any polyps that are removed are sent to the pathology lab for testing, and a biopsy report is then generated and shared with patients.

What are the symptoms of colon cancer?

In addition to following the recommended colon cancer screening guidelines, it is important to know the warning signs of colon cancer, which include:

  • Blood in the stool
  • Stomach cramping and pains
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Decreased appetite and vomiting
  • Weakness and fatigue

While there could be many different causes for these conditions, it’s important to talk with your doctor right away if you experience any of these symptoms. Treatment is available for symptomatic colon cancer. The earlier it is detected, the better.

How to make an appointment

Especially given the widespread prevalence of colorectal cancer and the preventive benefits of screening, Jacobs reiterates the importance of getting screened. Even for individuals who have no family history or other risk factors, everybody should have a colonoscopy at age 50, or age 45 for African-Americans, he emphasizes.

To make it as easy as possible for patients to schedule a colonoscopy, some Crozer-Keystone physicians now offer "direct access" scheduling for patients who are between the ages of 50 and 75, asymptomatic and in generally good health. This means these individuals get a colonoscopy on their first visit with no extra trips to the doctor’s office.  If you don’t meet these criteria, Crozer-Keystone can still help you schedule your colonoscopy. For more information, call 1-877-CKHS-GI1 (1-877-254-7441).

Related Locations

eNewsletter Signup

Our eNewsletters from Crozer-Keystone Health System help keep you up-to-date on your health and well being. View recent editions or sign up to receive our free eNewsletters.