Colorectal or colon cancer is among the top three cancers for both men and women in South Africa, although it is more prevalent among men. Evidence shows an increase in younger individuals also diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer (CRC) in its early stages shows no symptoms. It is often diagnosed at a more advanced stage or when it has already spread to other body parts. Therefore, it is essential to be aware of family history and to screen for CRC before you have symptoms or experience discomfort.
What is a colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is the best screening for colon cancer. It is a procedure to detect changes or abnormalities in the large intestine (colon) and rectum. CANSA encourages early detection and screening through a colonoscopy, starting at age 50 and repeated every ten years, depending on the individual’s risk factors.
Most colon cancers begin as a small growth of tissue that starts in the lining and spreads into the centre of the colon or rectum. Colon polyps are common in adults and are harmless in most cases. However, most colon cancers begin with a polyp, so removing polyps helps to prevent cancer. When diagnosed early, the survival rate for colon cancer increases significantly.
Although a colonoscopy is more commonly known for testing for cancer, it also helps to find the underlying causes of other uncomfortable and worrying symptoms. Some of these symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Anaemia due to low iron
- Blood in stool
- Chronic constipation
- Weight loss
What happens during a colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is a simple and safe procedure in which a gastroenterologist inserts a long, flexible tube (colonoscope) into the rectum and moves it through the colon. A tiny video camera and light at the tip of the tube allow the doctor to view the inside of the entire colon. During the procedure, you’ll lie on your side on a padded examination table. The doctor will expand the colon with air, allowing for better viewing of the colon’s lining. The doctor can remove polyps or other types of abnormal tissue through the scope if necessary. Tissue samples (biopsies) can also be taken during a colonoscopy for testing at a lab.
About 1 in 4 people have polyps removed during their procedure.
Conscious sedation or general anaesthesia is usually recommended for a colonoscopy which typically takes about 30 to 60 minutes. Colonoscopies are mostly not painful. After the procedure, people may experience mild discomfort for up to 24 hours. They may develop mild stomach cramping, gas pains, and bloating. In addition to mild discomfort, bleeding may occur if the doctor takes a biopsy or removes abnormal tissue. Call your doctor if you have bleeding, nausea, or vomiting.
Colonoscopies are offered at all Intercare day hospitals.
References and sources
- North-western Medicine:
- Medical News Today: