Colonoscopy is the gold standard for detecting colon cancer. Doctors scrutinize the colon for abnormal growths and remove any polyps that are found.

Some have questioned the value of this procedure, but a new study of data from almost 90,000 people over two decades shows that it reduces the risk of colon cancer by as much as 68 percent. People who don’t have polyps can wait up to 10 years between tests, but doctors are still trying to determine the optimal interval for those who have polyps discovered during the colonoscopy.

[New England Journal of Medicine, Sept 19, 2013]

Lynn commented on “Today I had my first ever colonoscopy at age 49. I have a family history of colon cancer and sure enough, my doctor already found 2 small polyps and diverticulitis. I am expected to return for repeats every 5 years as opposed to someone with a clean bill of health who can go 10 years. I will gladly go through the prep again and again. It sure beats the hell my family members went through who would have been saved if colonoscopies existed during their time!”

Failure to diagnose colorectal cancer is among the top 10 errors that result in malpractice suits. But to get the most out of this screening measure, patients have to make and keep appointments for colonoscopies at individually appropriate intervals.

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  1. DRK

    Try drinking the prep solution with a straw which gets it past your taste buds into the back of your throat. And chew a stick of gum after each dose. Boy, that advice really really worked for me

  2. jjd

    The last time I had a colonoscopy I had to use “Go Lightley” which seemed like a gallon to drink & tasted awful. There should be something to clean you out that does not taste that bad??

  3. LouisianaJoe

    The problem with preps is that some are very difficult to swallow. There are preps that do not taste that bad. The problem is to get the doctor to change to such a prep. I used a product called Suprep for my last colonoscopy. It consists of 2 6oz bottles that you mix in a 16 oz container for 2 doses. The taste is kinda like grape drink and I did not find it to taste that bad. I am sure that there are other products like this that do not require you to drink large volumes of nasty stuff.

  4. Dorothy F.

    I had my first colonoscopy at age 70 and had cancer surgery a month later. The “prep” is no fun, but the alternative is even worse. I have gone from annual colonoscopies to every three years and am extremely grateful for the experience.

  5. DKL

    I have been a member of Kaiser Permanente in Northern California for 47 years (I’m 77) and have never had a colonoscopy, even though I’ve inquired about one. There is no history of colon cancer in my family. Kaiser, however, DOES to sigmoidoscopies on a regular basis. They maintain that is all that’s needed for people with no polyps.

  6. Karen

    The problem with “not tolerating the prep” is that the only thing worse than a routine colonoscopy prep is constant preps for the treatment of colon cancer.

  7. MP

    I have Crohn’s Disease and for several years I had to have 2 colonoscopies per year. The procedure is a piece of cake…but the prep was much too harsh for my system and the aftermath kept me homebound 2-3 days after. Now the prep has been altered for those over 65…too many incidents resulting from falls trying to get to the bathroom in time. Ask about a less harsh prep when you are going to have the procedure. Thankfully, I can wait 2 yrs between procedures.

  8. rh

    What about those of us who cannot tolerate the prep? I make sure to get the stool cards every year without fail. I’ve had so many bad reactions to various medications, but my NP tells me, yes, colonoscopy is the gold standard, but using the stool card consistently is good. A mother and 1 or 2 sisters have had a polyp or two but that’s it.

  9. Grampi

    The VA, in Leeds/Northampton (MA), & in Albany, NY, recommends every three years, if you have polyps.

  10. MWF

    My husband had a colonoscopy at 50 and had polyps. He followed up every five years. At age 65 he had another. All was pronounced “clear”. Three years later he was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer with metastisis to his liver. This was not diagnosed by the doctor who did the last colonoscopy. He diagnosed him with “acid reflux. He died in less than two years.

  11. Frank E

    I am 75 and have had this procedure done regularly since I turned 45. As the man said the prep isn’t fun but I’ll continue doing so from now on. My tip of the day; fiber therapy and regularity.

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