Nobody looks forward to having a colonoscopy, and it’s true that this colorectal cancer screening test is inconvenient. Beforehand you will need to fast for a day and take a strong laxative to cleanse the bowels. Then you lose at least half a day of work to have the procedure done. Because it involves anesthesiology, you have to recruit a volunteer to drive you home. But doctors say a colonoscopy, a way to examine the insides of the rectum and colon (large intestine), is the gold standard for screening for colorectal cancer. It saves lives every day.
While there are easier tests to help detect colorectal cancer, a colonoscopy is one of the best ways to help diagnose it in its early stages, while it is most treatable. It is also the only colorectal screening test that allows the doctor to remove potentially precancerous polyps before they become cancer.
Vikram Reddy, MD, director of colorectal surgery for Yale Medicine, believes colonoscopies are highly effective. They often lead to a cancer diagnosis in time for him to perform lifesaving surgery, while also preserving the patient’s quality of life. “If anyone has any change in their bowel habits, if they have any bleeding—even if they think it’s a hemorrhoid—just get a colonoscopy,” Dr. Reddy advises.