As you age, you may be overwhelmed by all the procedures and tests that your doctors recommend in order to keep your health in check. One of the most important screenings is a colonoscopy, a text that examines the inside of your large intestine. While many health screenings are required yearly, colonoscopies and other tests like it can usually be performed just once or twice every decade.

Prevention is crucial

Although early diagnosis can keep colon cancer from spreading, prevention is the best method of fighting cancer. For this reason, your Bala Cynwyd gastroenterologist recommends that all men and women over 50 years of age should have at least one of the following screening tests:

Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years - A gastroenterologist uses a thin, flexible tube, called a scope, to view the inside of the rectum and the lower, or sigmoid, colon. The end that is placed in the colon through the rectum has a tiny light and camera that allows the doctor to see the inside of the colon clearly. This exam, which takes approximately 20 minutes, and others like it require preparation beforehand. This usually involves taking laxatives and maintaining a liquid diet at least 24 hours prior to clear the colon of any debris. Your doctor will provide step-by-step instructions on how to prepare for the test.

Colonoscopy every 10 years - A colonoscopy is performed in the same way as a flexible sigmoidoscopy; the only difference is that it examines the entire colon rather than just the lower region. It will also require a sedative during the procedure, which takes between 30 and 45 minutes.

Double-contrast barium enema every 5 years - Barium, a liquid compound, shows up as silvery white on an X-ray. This fluid is administered into the rectum in order to view the colon and detect any abnormalities. Since the colon must be empty in order to obtain the best pictures, the preparation is the same as other lower GI procedures.

CT colonography every 5 years - This is a 'virtual' colonoscopy that is much less invasive than a traditional colonoscopy. Using computed tomography (CT), a machine will scan the lower body to obtain pictures of the inside of the colon. While the preparation is the same, there is no anesthesia involved and 95% of patients report very little or no discomfort during the procedure, which takes about 15 minutes.

Risk factors

People with increased risk of colon abnormalities may need more frequent testing. Those who have a personal or close family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, or have a personal history of inflammatory bowel conditions such as ulcerative colitis or Chron's Disease, should receive screenings every one to two years beginning at age 40. If genetic testing reveals a family history of hereditary colon problems, testing may need to begin earlier and performed more often.

Just minutes of your time every few years can make a huge difference in your quality of life. Don't wait - contact the GI Specialists of Northeast Philadelphia today to learn more and schedule a screening.