Published on July 22, 2014

Colorectal cancer screening: not a laughing matter

by Aynsley Anderson

Colonoscopies are often joked about, but the importance of having one is no laughing matter. The American Cancer Society says that colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer (excluding skin cancers) in both men and women. Usually the incidence of colorectal cancer increases with age.

Over the past 20 years, the death rate from colorectal cancer has been steadily declining. This is likely in part due to more people being screened, as well as improved treatments for colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer screening allows extra growths of tissue, known as polyps, to be found and removed before they can develop into cancers. Screening also allows colorectal cancers to be found earlier, when the disease is easier to cure.

It usually is recommended that those with no known risk factors for colorectal cancer begin screening at age 50. Some people may need to begin screening at an earlier age, including African-Americans, those with a family history of colorectal cancer, or personal risk factors such as inflammatory bowel disease. Talk with your health provider about the screening recommendations for you.

There are several tests used to screen for colorectal cancer. Generally, a colonoscopy screening test is most commonly done, as it allows for visualization of the entire colon and rectum.

Preparation for a colonoscopy involves fully emptying the colon and rectum so that the doctor can view this area clearly. Patients usually drink a quantity of a specially prescribed laxative, as well as follow a special diet a day prior to the test. It is important to follow all preparation instructions carefully.

Many people consider the colon prep to be the most difficult part of the test. It involves staying close to a bathroom for several hours the night before the procedure. Consider it a great way to get caught up on reading or crossword puzzles!

Prior to the test beginning, a sedating medication is given, usually intravenously. The medication causes patients to be sleepy enough that they are not aware of what is going on during the procedure nor remember it afterward. It wears off quickly after the procedure is complete, but since some people might still feel a little groggy afterwards, a friend or relative must be available to drive them home.

The actual colonoscopy test takes about 30 minutes, but could take longer if a polyp is found and needs to be removed. Over time, some polyps may become cancerous, and therefore it is wise to remove them during the screening procedure.

The American Cancer Society recommends that those with a normal colonoscopy test result have a repeat test about every 10 years. If a polyp was found, more frequent screening may be recommended. Talk with your doctor regarding how often you should be screened.

Health insurance coverage of colorectal screening tests is required by the Affordable Care Act. Exceptions may include insurance plans that were in place before the passage of the ACA, as well as some states that have limits on screening coverage. It is important prior to the test, for all patients to check with their health insurance providers to see if they will incur any out-of-pocket costs for the procedure.

For more information on colorectal cancer, colonoscopies and other colorectal screening tests, go to and search under the Wellness tab for the Health Library. Lawrence Memorial Hospital has two sites in Lawrence where colorectal screenings are done. These are the LMH Endoscopy Center at the main campus at 325 Maine St. and the LMH West Endoscopy Center at 4525 West 6th St.

Aynsley Anderson, MA, RN, is Community Education Coordinator for Lawrence Memorial Hospital. She can be reached at

Colorectal cancer screening: not a laughing matter

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