Are Colonoscopies the Gold Standard for Detecting Colon and Rectal Cancer?


Roughly 50,000 people in the United States pass away from colon and rectal cancer annually. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths for men and women combined. Luckily, it is generally treatable and, when discovered early, the prognosis can be extremely good.

The Food and Drug Administration has passed three kinds of home-based tests for colon and rectal cancer. These tests operate by finding abnormal deviations in the feces, such as bleeding or DNA indicators for colorectal cancer. Although the comparative simplicity of these exams might make them appear like an ideal alternative, it is critical to understand that the colonoscopy continues to be the best option for the diagnosis and prevention of colon and rectal cancer. If you are in the Phoenix, AZ area, a gastroenterologist who can provide a colon cancer screening is accessible at an Arizona Digestive Health facility near you.

Why undergo a colon cancer screening?

Rapid identification is critical to beating colon and rectal cancer. When cancer is identified in the rectum or colon (large intestine) before it has time to metastasize, the five-year chance of survival is close to 90%. Although different approaches of testing for colon and rectal cancer are available, none have proven to be as reliable and as precise as the colonoscopy screening. The best weapons in the fight against colorectal cancer are colorectal cancer knowledge and regular colonoscopies.

What can I expect with a colonoscopy?

To begin your procedure, your GI specialist will provide you with some preparatory instructions to make sure your bowel is empty during the screening. These instructions may contain:

  • Taking a laxative: Your GI physician may offer you a laxative or "bowel prep" to empty your bowels either the evening prior to or the day of your screening.

  • Regulating medications: If you take certain medications for blood pressure, heart problems, or diabetes, then you might need to modify your dosage or stop taking them temporarily.

  • Fasting: You may be instructed to abstain from solid food and ingest only clear liquids for a set period of time before your exam.

Throughout the procedure, you will possibly be provided a mild form of sedative to help you remain relaxed and then instructed to lie on your side. A narrow, flexible scope with a video camera on the end will be fed into your large intestine (colon) through your rectum. This scope, or colonoscope, is long enough to extend throughout your whole large intestine. Your colonoscopy doctor will examine the live feed from the colonoscope's camera on a special monitor and look for any irregularities. In the event a growth (polyp) or any other abnormal area is detected, special instruments can be utilized through the scope to capture tissue samples for biopsy evaluation.

When should I receive a colonoscopy screening?

Per the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), adults should schedule their first colonoscopy screening at 45 years of age and then once every ten years if there is an average risk for the disease. When an increased chance of having colorectal cancer exists, our gastroenterologists may suggest a colonoscopy once every 3 – 5 years. Common colorectal cancer risk factors include:

  • Family history of colon cancer

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Personal history of multiple polyps, large polyps, or colon cancer

  • GI conditions, such as Crohn's disease and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

A GI doctor might also recommend a colonoscopy exam when any of the following signs or symptoms of colorectal cancer are present:

  • Diarrhea

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Persistent constipation

  • Abdominal discomfort

  • Blood in your stool

Phoenix, AZ residents who are displaying these signs are urged to contact Arizona Digestive Health to meet with a gastroenterologist right away.

Why are colonoscopies the gold standard for colorectal cancer screenings?

While a few home-based screening tests have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, a colonoscopy remains the most effective procedure for detecting colon and rectal cancer. In addition, large or potentially malignant polyps can be excised through a colonoscopy which minimizes the need for further treatments. An individual who tests positive on a home-based screening kit will still need to schedule a colonoscopy to confirm those results and have any cancerous or precancerous polyps removed.

Need a colonoscopy in Phoenix, AZ?

For adults age 45 and older, having periodic colon and rectal cancer screenings is a central part of maintaining your health. A colonoscopy exam at Arizona Digestive Health can effectively diagnose and prevent colon and rectal cancer, providing you a good fighting chance if the cancer is identified early on and comfort if you are cancer-free. To schedule a colonoscopy in Phoenix, AZ, or for more information about protecting your health against colorectal cancer, please reach out to our gastroenterology practice today.