Why is it Important to Get a Colonoscopy?

In this episode, Dr. Patrick Ryberg leads a discussion focusing on colon cancer, who is at risk, and how to prepare for a colonoscopy. 

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Why is it Important to Get a Colonoscopy?
Featured Speaker:
Patrick Ryberg, MD
Dr. Ryberg joined Upland Hills Health in 2016.
Why is it Important to Get a Colonoscopy?

Caitlin Whyte: If you're 45 years or older, you know it's time to start colonoscopy screenings. So today we are going to talk all about when you should get one why, and just what a colonoscopy is with Dr. Patrick Ryberg. This is the Inspire Health Podcast from Upland Hills Health. I'm Caitlin Whyte. Doctor, to start us off today, let's get to some basics. Is colon cancer the same as colorectal cancer? And are there different types of colorectal cancer?

Dr. Patrick Ryberg: Colorectal cancer is a broad term we use to describe cancers of the large intestine. the rectum is what we typically refer to as the last 15 centimeters of the large intestine. So we use the term colorectal cancer to kind of, cover basically colon and rectal cancer together. there are different types of cancers of the large intestine, but the most common type is an adenocarcinoma, and that's the typical cancer that we're screening for when we talk about screening colonoscopies.

Caitlin Whyte: Gotcha. All right, so colon cancer is said to be the second leading cause of cancer related deaths. So what makes colon cancer so dangerous?

Dr. Patrick Ryberg: Colon cancer is dangerous because people can present with minimal or no symptoms. Sometimes people present with bleeding, a bowel obstruction or abdominal pain that can lead to a diagnosis. However, many times people have no symptoms at all in this is incidentally found on a screening colonoscopy. The problem with that, is that the disease can become advanced before it's diagnosed and then it can become even incurable, unfortunately. So that can lead to a very dangerous situation for people.

Caitlin Whyte: Absolutely. So today we are talking about colonoscopy. So what is the purpose of a colonoscopy? What is the procedure?

Dr. Patrick Ryberg: A screening colonoscopy involves inserting the colonoscope up the bottom and going all around the large intestine and evaluating micosa, which is the inner lining of the colon and the rectum. The purpose is to detect anything that looks abnormal, that could be a polyp or a tumor. And now a polyp is a growth that can turn into a tumor over years and years. So the goal is kind of twofold. Number one, if someone has cancer that can be diagnosed during a colonoscopy. Secondly, you can remove pre-cancerous polyps that could turn into cancer down the line. So that's the main goal of screening with a colonoscopy.

The benefit of that is that this can be considered a two-stage procedure and that you can identify, diagnose and possibly treat a polyp all in one setting. Whereas with other screening modalities, a positive test often will trigger a second, test needed, such as a colonoscopy to either remove a polyp or biopsy a cancer.

Caitlin Whyte: Well, that leads me into my next question, kind of, besides detecting colorectal cancer, what are the other benefits of a colonoscopy? What else could doctors be looking for?

Dr. Patrick Ryberg: So the main benefit would be detecting colon polyps, and these polyps are gross, thick, and, develop in the lining of the colon, and they can often take years to increase in size to the point where they become an invasive cancer. So by removing them earlier, we can, place a patient in maybe a higher risk category where they will be having more frequent colonoscopies in the future, looking for other polyps that could turn into cancer as well. So this test is not just for detecting cancer, but also detecting pre-cancerous lesions that can be removed and prevent the progression to cancer in the future.

Caitlin Whyte: Okay. Well, people tend to avoid colonoscopies or don't get them, push them off. Can you dispel any of the myths or address any of these concerns about the prep process or the procedure itself? Why is it something that people just don't want to do?

Dr. Patrick Ryberg: I think one of the main reasons people avoid colonoscopies is that they think they do not need one. I think that colon cancer has probably a lifetime incidence of about 4% for most people, and so, , if you can prevent that progression, I think that's very important. So number one, it is something that people probably should consider doing. The cost people are sometimes worry about the cost, but typically, they can check with their insurance companies to see if that would be covered. Bowel prep can be concerning for people in terms of taking a bowel prep to get ready for the colonoscopy, but most people tolerate the bowel prep very well.

And fourth is probably just taking the time out of your schedule just to get it done and do it. we have noticed that there is an increasing risk of cancer in younger people, so I think the benefits outweigh the risks of having screening colonoscopies for people.

Caitlin Whyte: Absolutely. So, wrapping up here, doctor, who should be getting a colonoscopy and why?

Dr. Patrick Ryberg: As far as screening and who should be screened, we typically recommend people with an average risk be screened starting at the age of 45. People with increased risks such as a first degree relative such as a parent, a sibling, those people should be screened starting at a younger age. They would be screened maybe at 40 years old or 10 years before the, age at diagnosis of their relative with colorectal cancer. So if they have a parent with colon cancer diagnosed at 44, that person would start screening colonoscopies at 34 years old, and then would probably get them every five years thereafter, depending on the findings of that colonoscopy.

Caitlin Whyte: Well, thank you, doctor for these great reminders. We appreciate you taking the time to join us today. Talk to your primary care provider. They can tell you all about the procedure and everything you need to know to prep for colonoscopy. This has been the Inspire Health Podcast from Upland Hills Health. I'm Caitlin Whyte. Be well.