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URMC / Patients & Families / Health Matters / February 2014 / Be Aware: Colonoscopy Can Screen for and Prevent Cancer

Be Aware: Colonoscopy Can Screen for and Prevent Cancer

If you could take a few simple steps to prevent cancer, would you?
Most of us like to think we’d do anything we can to stay healthy. Well, almost anything. Until you reach that milestone birthday—for most, that’s age 50—and your doctor tells you it’s time for a colonoscopy. Even the most punctual people find themselves putting it off.
serious middle-aged man
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Monthand a good time to remind you, with help from UR Medicine Gastroenterologist Dr. Thomas Werth, why having a colonoscopy is so important.
Colon cancer—the second most common cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.—is a cancer that is entirely preventable and curable, if it’s picked up at the early stage. The way to do that is with a colonoscopy: a procedure with a dual purpose for many.
Colonoscopies not only allow doctors to examine the colon and rectum, they provide the chance to remove precancerous growths known as polyps. While most polyps are benign (not cancerous), they are how most colorectal cancers start. So, regular screening can often find colorectal cancer early, when it is most likely to be curable. And, in many cases, screening can also prevent colorectal cancer altogether.
If fear of the unknown is holding you back from scheduling your colonoscopy, this information will help you know what to expect:
  • Some say that preparing for a colonoscopy is worse than the test itself. While it’s true that to prepare you have to stick to a clear liquid diet and drink fluids to clear out your bowel, medications used to help with that are far less harsh today than five or 10 years ago. Most people don’t have the cramping or discomfort that used to accompany the prep. You can expect to spend extra time in the restroom the evening before your test but it’s a necessary step to be sure your test can be completed successfully.
  • Other than a slight needle prick to get your IV started, the procedure is painless. You’ll be given medication through the IV to make you drowsy and take away any potential pain or discomfort. Most people feel as though they’ve taken a nap and are surprised when awakened to learn the test is done. Ocolonoscopyn average, a colonoscopy takes 20 to 40 minutes from start to finish.
  • After you’re alert, the doctor will talk with you about your test and let you know if any polyps were found, and if any further action is necessary. There’s about a 15 to 25 percent chance that your screening colonoscopy will identify polyps, which can usually be removed during the procedure. 
  • The majority of patients learn that everything was normal and they’re set for 10 years before they’ll need to repeat the test. Most people are on their way home just a couple of hours after their appointment time.
  • Down time is minimal, usually beginning with the evening before and continuing through the day the test is done. You may feel sleepy the rest of the day and shouldn’t make any major decisions. You shouldn’t drive that day. You will probably be hungry but will feel fine and may eat a normal meal. By the next morning, you may return to normal activities.

Whether you’ve reached that magical age or you have a family history that warrants a screening, when your doctor refers you for a colonoscopy, don’t put it off. It could save your life. 

Still not convinced? UR Medicine is proud to partner with WROC News Anchor Kevin Doran, who courageously volunteered to have his screening colonoscopy live, so you can see how simple this important step in your wellness can be. The live colonoscopy is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 25. Click here for more information.
Update: Click here to learn the results of Kevin Doran's colonoscopy.
Thomas Werth, MD
Thomas E. Werth, M.D., is a UR Medicine Gastroenterologist and an associate professor of Medicine in Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Board-certified in Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology and Transplant Hepatology, Dr. Werth serves as the Program Director of the Gastroenterology Fellowship training program. Click here to see Dr. Werth discuss the importance of colonoscopies.



Lori Barrette | 2/21/2014 | 9 comments


Health Matters
Betty, that’s an excellent question and the answer to it varies based on an individual’s circumstances. In general, if you are age 75 or older and have been getting regular colonoscopy screenings since age 50 with no findings of polyps or cancer, and if you have no increased risk due to family history of colon cancer, you may not need to continue getting routine colonoscopies. This recommendation is based on guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American College of Physicians. However, if you have a family history of colon cancer or have previously had colon cancer or cancerous polyps, you may need to continue with screenings. The best advice is to talk with your doctor about your personal risk factors and decide together whether or not you may benefit from continuing to have screening colonoscopies.
4/3/2014 9:05:31 AM
Betty McM
I have read that colonoscopy is not required and in fact, should not be done after age 80. I will be 82 in July. Please comment.
3/26/2014 2:54:30 PM
Health Matters
We urge you to talk with your primary care doctor who can help you determine if it's time for you to have a colonoscopy.
Best wishes to you!
3/24/2014 11:05:22 AM
John D. Behan
I should probably arrange to have a colonoscopy as soon as possible as I've never had one.
3/22/2014 6:04:53 PM
Health Matters
The staff at our Gastroenterology Division can assist you in scheduling an appointment. Please call them at (585) 275-4711. Best wishes to you!
3/10/2014 9:25:00 AM
Edward k. Gregor
3/7/2014 11:57:47 PM
Edward k. Gregor
I'm scheduled to have one, but I need an appointment First. How soon would that be?
3/7/2014 11:54:46 PM
Health Matters
Thanks for contacting us. We're glad to see you're following up on this important appointment. You can learn more about our services and read some patient stories here:

To contact our Gastroenterology and Hepatology Division for information on scheduling an appointment, please call (585) 275-4711.
Best wishes to you!
2/26/2014 1:21:00 PM
Donna Parks
I just moved to Upstate NY in April 2013. I am due for a colonoscopy. I had one 5 years ago and a small polyp was found. I just turned 70. I am looking for a gastroenterologist that is part of URMC. I was due for this in Nov. 2013 but was nervous to find a new doctor. How long would I have to wait to get an appointment with this doctor? I hated the colyte prep. but slitting it sounds better!
2/25/2014 4:49:08 PM