National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is a great time to talk about one of the most preventable and treatable forms of cancer, if diagnosed early. It may seem intimidating, but a colonoscopy is a very simple test and a big reason why there are more than one million colon cancer survivors in the United States.

A colonoscopy test is a visual examination of the large intestine (colon) using a lighted, flexible video colonoscope. The scope also has a camera to help the physician document findings and notable features.

A colonoscopy is more than just a test. If a polyp is found, it can usually be removed during the exam, thereby eliminating the need for a major operation and potentially preventing the development of cancer. If a bleeding site is identified, treatment can be administered to stop the bleeding. Other treatments can be given through the colonoscope when necessary and further studies or treatments may be recommended.

Colonoscopies also can be used in the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of other issues, such as:

  • Abdominal pain, discomfort or change in bowel habits
  • Chronic diarrhea or constipation
  • Colitis (Ulcerative or Crohn’s)
  • Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis
  • Alternative tests to a colonoscopy include a barium enema or other types of X-ray exams that outline the colon and allow a diagnosis to be made. In addition, study of the stool and blood can provide indirect information about a colon condition. These exams, however, do not allow direct viewing of the colon or removal of polyps or biopsies to be done.

    If you’re at risk for colon cancer because of age, medical history or family history, talk to your doctor. They can help you determine which test is right for you.

    Amanda M. McClure, MD, FACS, is a board-certified general and colorectal surgeon with IHA Colon & Rectal Surgery. Dr. McClure specializes in robotic and laparoscopic surgery, as well as minimally invasive transanal procedures. She has clinical interests in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer.