Are Colonoscopies Worth the Risk? Here’s What the Experts Say
(AscendHealthy.com) – The risks of developing colorectal cancer are about 1 in 23 for men and 1 in 25 for women, according to the American Cancer Society. Colonoscopies can find cancerous and precancerous lesions before they become threats, but they also sometimes create hazards of their own. For most people, the benefits outweigh the risks, but it may not always be the best screening choice for certain groups. Here’s how to decide.
Benefits of Colonoscopies
Colorectal cancer kills more people in the US each year than any other type of cancer. Relatively slow-growing, this form of tumor poses a low mortality rate when it’s caught early; an estimated 90% of people who find the growths at their earliest stage will live at least 5 years beyond their diagnosis. Still, only about one-third of high-risk individuals have had a colonoscopy performed. With about 60% of cases found in later stages, many colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented with a timely exam.
The CDC reports that people in the highest risk groups include those with inflammatory bowel diseases or a history, family or personal, of colorectal polyps or cancer. People who smoke, drink alcohol, are physically inactive and/or are overweight also increase their chances of developing this disease. Diet also plays a role, with people who consume low amounts of fiber and high amounts of fats and processed meats also at an increased risk. The majority of cases occur after the age of 50, so that’s when most doctors agree testing should begin.
Knowing the Risks
One in every 1,541 diagnostic colonoscopies leaves the patient with a dangerous perforation in their colon; the rate jumps to 1 in 921 with polyp removal. These odds aren’t terrible, but patients should know certain risks do exist. The possibility of complications increases by 13% with anesthesia use.
Colonoscopy patients are also at risk of developing an infection, which can result in painful abdominal swelling, or peritonitis. For this reason, some doctors may opt to give preventative antibiotics to people likely to see this complication. They may also need to weigh additional risks for patients older than 80 years old, who are more likely to experience bowel perforation and anesthesia-related cardiovascular events.
Having a colonoscopy every 5 to 10 years is the most effective method of detecting early cancers, but people do have other options. Harvard Health reports that individuals at low cancer risk can choose yearly fecal testing, which isn’t invasive but can sometimes give false-positive results.
Another option is a flexible sigmoidoscopy, which doesn’t require sedation and doesn’t take as long as a colonoscopy. On the downside, it only covers about one-third of the colon and needs to be repeated every 5 years. Virtual colonoscopy is less invasive, but it may miss small polyps. A qualified physician can help sort out which option is best for each patient.
Colonoscopies save lives, although rare but severe complications might rarely prove fatal. The risks and benefits are different for everyone, and each should be weighed with a doctor, taking age and other health factors into account. With the right approach, we each can do our part to reduce the occurrence of colorectal cancer as well as its devastating impacts.
~Here’s to Your Healthy Ascension
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