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How often you should have a colonoscopy

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How often you should have a colonoscopy

Colon cancer shows no symptoms for a long time. It usually comes without any warning signs. When the first symptoms appear, the disease is usually already advanced.

The most important things at a glance

We have the Munich gastroenterologist Dr. Berndt Birkner asked what options there are for colon cancer prevention and from what age which examinations should take place.

Colon cancer prevention saves lives

Colon cancer develops from precursors called colon polyps. They are located in the intestinal lining and are benign for a long time. With the help of early detection tests such as colonoscopy, such precancerous lesions can be detected and removed in good time.

“It is estimated that it takes around ten years for it to develop into carcinoma,” says Birkner, who serves on the board of trustees of the Felix Burda Foundation. This creates plenty of time to prevent the cancer from breaking out. The prognosis for these so-called “low-risk early cancers” is favorable. “The chances of recovery are around 95 percent.”

However, if the cancer is only discovered in an advanced stage and has already metastasized, the chances of survival are almost zero.

How a colonoscopy works

Colon cancer prevention includes various examinations. The safest method is a colonoscopy. The entire large intestine is examined with a special endoscope, the colonoscope. In order for the doctor to be able to properly see the inside of the intestine, the intestine must first be well cleaned and freed from food and stool residues. To do this, the patient takes a colonic lavage solution one day before the colonoscopy and is not allowed to eat anything from then on.

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During the colonoscopy, the patient lies on his side on a treatment table. The doctor inserts the colonoscope, a flexible tube about one centimeter in diameter, into the anus and pushes it through the large intestine to the beginning of the small intestine. There is a small camera attached to the front end of the device that scans the intestines for possible changes in the intestinal wall. The likelihood of the intestinal wall being injured and complications occurring is very low.

At the same time, the doctor can take tissue samples if there are any noticeable changes. “If a polyp is found in the intestine, it is removed during the examination, with a loop or with forceps that are pushed into the colonoscope,” explains Birkner. The tissue is then sent to a laboratory for examination. There it is determined whether cancer cells are present and, if so, what type of cancer it is.

If desired, the patient is given a sedative or can have a short anesthesia so that he does not feel any pain and is not aware of the examination.

Which doctor performs a colonoscopy?

For a colonoscopy, patients usually need a referral from their family doctor or an invitation from their health insurance company for colon cancer screening. The examination may only be carried out by medical professionals who can demonstrate qualifications for this examination. Most of these are gastroenterologists. These are internists who specialize in diseases of the digestive tract. But some proctologists, surgeons and oncologists also have the necessary qualifications.

Colonoscopy when and how often?

With increasing age, the risk of developing colon cancer increases. Therefore, men from the age of 50 and women from the age of 55 are entitled to a colonoscopy for the early detection of colon cancer as part of statutory preventive care. The costs of the preventive examination are covered by the health insurance company. If no abnormalities were revealed during the first colonoscopy, the second colonoscopy will be offered after ten years at the earliest. If you decide against a second colonoscopy ten years after the first, you can have an immunological stool test done every two years instead.

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