According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. People with early stage colorectal cancer rarely experience symptoms, but possible signs may involve:
- Blood seen in the stool (rectal bleeding).
- Abdominal pain.
- Change in bowel habits - diarrhea, constipation or change in the shape of the stool.
- Sudden weight loss.
- Decrease in appetite.
A colonoscopy is the best way to diagnose colorectal cancer. A preventative colonoscopy can help catch symptoms before they develop, and a diagnostic colonoscopy helps doctors follow up on patients with symptoms. Screening is recommended for adults over the age of 50 with no family history of colon cancer. If you do have a family history, screenings may start at the age of 40 or earlier, depending on when your family member was diagnosed. There are a few different screening methods available, including:
- Colonoscopy – The gold standard of screening tools that can detect and remove growths during the procedure.
- Stool tests (Cologuard is the most common) – Recommended for low-risk patients who have no family history, symptoms or history of polyps. If you test positive, then you will need a colonoscopy. If you test negative, you’ll need to follow up in 3 years.
When you get a colonoscopy, you’ll need to maintain a liquid diet 24 hours prior to the procedure. You’ll be asked to drink a bowel cleanser the evening before and morning of. During the procedure, you’re under anesthesia for 30 to 40 minutes and in recovery for 20 minutes. You can go home afterward and eat the same day.
If your doctor finds polyps, which are small growths that turn into cancer over time, they will remove them. If a mass or tumor is found, your doctor will take a biopsy to test for cancer.
Cone Health has an exceptional network of board-certified gastroenterologists who provide high-quality, comprehensive care for your digestive health.
Kavitha “Veena” Nandigam, MD, is a gastroenterologist at LeBauer Gastroenterology and a member of Cone Health Medical Group. She received her doctorate of medicine from Jawaharlal Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education & Research. She is board certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology, and is a member of the American Gastroenterology Association, the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, the American College of Gastroenterology, and the North Carolina State Medical Society.