Health Team

Study suggests how often you should get a colonoscopy

Posted September 17, 2008
Updated September 18, 2008

— Only half of Americans who should get screened for colon cancer actually do it. However, a new study may be reassuring to those who do go in for screening and wonder how long before they have to do it again.

Colonoscopy is beneficial because doctors can easily remove anything they find if it could become cancer. The procedure requires 24 hours of medication to cleanse the colon, mild sedation for the exam itself and about a day away from work.

However, a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine and co-authored by Dr. David Ransohoff of UNC Hospitals, has good news for those who endure it with no sign of cancer.

“They can wait five years before the next exam and maybe even 10 years,” Dr. Robert Sandler, a UNC gastroenterologist, said.

Sandler said that if an abnormality is found and removed, the patient needs another exam in three to five years, depending on the number or size of polyps found.

Researchers found men were more likely than women to develop polyps or advanced pre-cancerous polyps.

Another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at an easier option to colonoscopy. The study cited CT colonography as a fairly effective screening option that identifies 90 percent of polyps or cancers if they are 10 millimeters or larger. It turns X-ray images into a computer generated "virtual colonoscopy," but it may miss small polyps.

“The second limitation of the CT is that it may miss flat polyps, which some people think are more dangerous,” Sandler said.

CT colonography also delivers a small dose of radiation.

If it reveals a polyp, you need to get a colonoscopy to remove it.

People should consider getting screened for colon cancer if their bowel habits change or you notice blood in your stool. If you have persistent abdominal pain, a doctor may also recommend a colonoscopy.

Generally, doctors recommend people aged 50 or older begin regular colon cancer screening. People with a higher risk of colon cancer may need more frequent colonoscopies – maybe even earlier than age 50 – depending on their doctor's advice.


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  • JustOneGodLessThanU Sep 19, 2008

    Or, just eat like your life depended on it...vegetarian. :-)

  • cadetsfan Sep 19, 2008

    The procedure is nothing. The prep work can be disturbing if you don't know what to expect, but now that I know what to expect I'm not wary to do it again when I have to.

  • Rocknhorse Sep 18, 2008

    whiffleball - you could be allergic to demerol. I am and that allergy runs in my family. It's not pleasant. Rather than sedating us, it makes us hallucinate and violent. I had to have a different sedative and had no problem. As mentioned, the day of prep is the worst of it.

  • colliedave Sep 18, 2008

    the prep work is more of a pain than the procedure itself

  • OLD PIRATE 2 Sep 18, 2008

    Wiffleball: You had a bad batch of drugs..That verset and demerol are the finest sleep in the world. Seriously, you didn't get the correct medicine for some reason.

  • ses12067 Sep 18, 2008

    In related news, the IRS has announced that it will rename the audit process....sorry GOLO, I couldn't resist.

  • FE Sep 18, 2008

    I had one several years ago, and return on a "ten-year anniversary" for another.

    The day-before prep was about what I expected, but the actual procedure was a piece of cake. An IV, talk with the doc/nurse, and then "is it over?" Of course, I did have someone drive me home but otherwise I was fine.

    I can certainly put up with that minor inconvenience every ten years or so versus what might come as unexpected very bad news from my doctor if I had never had a colonoscopy in the first place.

    The problems described by whiffleball must be related to some other issues........or (s)he needs to find a different doctor next time!


  • whiffleball Sep 18, 2008

    Mild sedation!! I tried their mild sedation for the procedure once and shrieked with pain through the entire ordeal! Then my blood pressure bottomed out from the combo of Demerol and excruciating pain.

    I'll be knocked completely out for the next one or there won't be a next one. It's more expensive to have it done that way, but it's an expense I'm more than willing to meet.

  • cadetsfan Sep 18, 2008

    It really requires about 2 days off from work. Not eating (only allowed juices and such) the day before is not an effective state to work in. If anything, I needed the day before off from work, and I could have worked the 2nd half of the day of the procedure.