Do I need a colonoscopy?

The question of whether or not a patient needs a colonoscopy depends on several factors. This medical procedure involves examining the intestinal tract with a camera inserted rectally and is done to look for signs of polyps, lesions, and other health problems in the colon. Although having a colonoscopy can be uncomfortable, this test can be extremely helpful in identifying early signs of colon cancer and other health conditions.

As a general rule, if a patient is over the age of 50, they will need a colonoscopy every 10 years until age 75 or 80, as the biggest risk factor for colon cancer is age. A virtual colonoscopy, which involves the use of medical imaging equipment to obtain an image of the colon, along with stool tests to look for signs of bleeding and ulceration in the colon, may also be used.

If a patient has a family history of cancer, they will need a colonoscopy more often, due to the increased risk of cancer. Cancer in close relatives is an indicator of a colonoscopy every five years starting at age 40, and a high incidence of cancer, especially colon cancer, in family history would suggest that a patient may need a colonoscopy every three years starting at age 40. 10 years younger than the youngest family member diagnosed with cancer. In other words, if a patient's father was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 35, the patient should plan to have a colonoscopy at age 25 and every three years thereafter.

A patient may also need a colonoscopy if they have a history of colon polyps or bowel disease. A doctor will make recommendations based on the individual patient's condition, but routine screening may need to begin at age 15, with follow-up evaluations in two to five years, depending on the patient's circumstances. People with a history of familial adenomatous polyposis, Crohn's disease, irritable bowel disease, and other intestinal conditions may need a colonoscopy on a regular basis to check for early signs of a problem.

Beyond the basic colonoscopy recommendations used as general guidelines in patient care, there may be specific circumstances in which a physician recommends a colonoscopy as part of a diagnosis and treatment plan. When a doctor requests that a patient have a colonoscopy, it's a good idea to follow the recommendation. If the patient has recently had a colonoscopy exam, she may ask if the doctor can review previous results and withdraw the recommendation for a repeat, but the doctor may feel that the patient's condition warrants a second look at the intestines.

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