If It’s Time, Make Time: What You Need to Know About Colonoscopies

Colorectal cancer, which begins in the colon or rectum, is the third-most deadly cancer in the U.S. Colorectal cancer often has no symptoms in the early stages, but it can be prevented or stopped from progressing with timely screenings.

Sep 25, 2020

Cortlandt Manor, NY

Dr. Pawan Rastogi in front of NYP Hudson Valley Hospital

Screening Saves Lives

“Colonoscopy is the one tool that is proven to prevent colon cancer in patients,” said Pawan Rastogi, M.D., gastroenterologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Hudson Valley and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “That’s not always the case for other types of cancers. But with a colonoscopy, you’re able to detect and test polyps and have them removed before they become cancer.”

The latest guidelines from the American Cancer Association say that you should begin screenings at age 45, but if there is a family history of colon cancer or other risk factors, screenings may need to start earlier.

“Your physician can help you decide when screening is right for you,” Dr. Rastogi said.

Detecting Colon Cancer Early

Colonoscopy is the most common and most highly recommended screening for colon cancer. It involves using a thin, flexible tube containing a light, camera and tiny instrumentation. The physician inserts the tube through the anus into the colon, slowly withdrawing it while looking for any polyps or signs of cancer. Patients are sedated during this process.

“I know that sometimes, especially in our younger patients, reading about a colonoscopy can spark a lot of fear,” Dr. Rastogi said. “It’s important to know there are alternative screening options.”

Alternative screening methods include:

  • Fecal occult blood test—A home test for blood in the stool
  • Sigmoidoscopy—A test similar to colonoscopy, focusing on the lower part of the colon

Whatever your age, you should consult a physician if you see bloody or black stools, a sudden change in the way your stools look, or begin experiencing uncommon diarrhea or constipation.

Living a Healthy Lifestyle

You can take positive steps to reduce your risk of colon cancer.

“First and foremost, abstain from any sort of tobacco use,” Dr. Rastogi said.

Diets high in red meat and processed food, along with excessive alcohol use, are also risk factors for colon cancer. Cut out saturated fats, reduce your salt intake, and select high-fiber foods like whole grains and colorful fruits and veggies instead.

“This is a cancer that we can all prevent together as long as we continue with screenings and healthy living,” Dr. Rastogi said.

The NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley’s Digestive Health Center offers colonoscopy screening for colon cancer, along with a range of GI treatments and screenings.  To make an appointment with a digestive health expert at New-York Presbyterian Hudson Valley, visit nyp.org/hudsonvalley/services/digestive-health  or call  914-603-5072.