BALTIMORE — Getting a colonoscopy can be scary, but according to a doctor at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, the risk of colorectal cancer has doubled for some.
When doctors are performing a colonoscopy, they are looking for something called polyps, a small growth in the colon that range in size from 1mm to 5cm. If they are left alone for a long time, they can become cancerous, which is why getting a colonoscopy or any sort of colon screening is important, even if you have no symptoms.
“There are no clues for polyps to be honest. They don’t cause any symptoms, so that is the reason we started treating asymptomatic patients,” explained Dr. Abinhav Sankineni.
Dr. Sankineni is board certified in internal medicine and Gastroenterology at the Center for Digestive Disease at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center. He says some polyps grow slow and some grow faster, but the overall goal is to remove them before they turn into cancer.
Dr. Sankineni says polyps can pop up anytime, but based off historical data, colon cancer starts around the age of 50. Some people, like African Americans or people who have a family history of colon cancer, may have an increased risk of developing polyps and should get checked before they turn 50.
The only way to check for polyps is through a colonoscopy or a CT scan of your colon. And while dodging the dreaded colonoscopy may sound like the better option, Dr. Sankineni says some of the smaller and more intimate polyps cannot be seen on a scan. Also, getting a colonoscopy is the only way doctors are able to remove the polyps.
“99.5 percent of the time when we see polyps we take them out. Sometimes the polyp is too big to take out and then they will need to bring them back and they need a longer session of the colonoscopy," said Dr. Sankineni.
Once you get that first colonoscopy, the next one is planned depending on your results. If you have no polyps during that first scan you are in the clear for another 10 years. If you do have polyps, you may need to come in and get the procedure done every one to five years depending on how many they find.
“If someone has more than five, especially more than 10 polyps, they have an increased risk of colon cancer," explained Dr. Sankineni. "They should have more frequent colonoscopies.”
And in addition to getting the procedure itself, Dr. Sankineni says preparing for it properly is just as important,
“I tell patients that first of all you need a good bowel prep, so that when you are undergoing your procedure, there is a meaningful benefit to the patient. If you don’t do a good bowel prep you are undergoing an unnecessary procedure at the risk of not being able to find the polyps."
While there are no signs that indicate you may have polyps, Dr. Sankineni says you should get checked out if you have a change in bowel habits or rectal bleeding because it could save your life.
“Overall colonoscopies have decreased incidents of colon cancer and also have decreased deaths related to colon cancer with people 50 and above."