The procedure is very safe, but as you know, any process has some or other hazards. So, here are the risks of colonoscopy, you must know.
What are the Risks of Colonoscopy?
Risk of Bowel Perforation!
The most significant risk would be a risk of bowel perforation.
When we’re undergoing a colonoscopy, the severe pressure inside may tear in the lining of the colon. The chances of that are minimal – 1 in 1,000 or maybe 1 in 5,000, but when it requires, the medical team performing colonoscopy has to be very careful.
There were cases when it required surgery to fix. And sometimes, the doctor may not be able to notice that this has happened because it might be a microscopic perforation. You should be aware of it, and you need to consult your doctor if you feel pain for a long time. The symptoms would be a lot of abdominal pain or fevers or chills.
One of the most common risks of colonoscopy is sedation.
Any time you’re sedated, it could interfere with your breathing, it can impede with your heart rate. As a result, it could interfere with your blood pressure.
So your doctor monitors all of those during the procedure as if you were having an operation. If there is an anesthesiologist or a nurse monitoring that, they do it very carefully. If necessary, they can intervene and give medications to reverse the effects of the anesthesia, or depending on the medicines used for anesthesia. They can stop the medicine going in, and in a short time, you’ll wake up. So that minimizes that risk.
There is always a risk of bleeding.
To minimize the risk of bleeding, you should not take any blood-thinner like aspirin or anti-inflammatory pills like Motrin or Ibuprofen. Doctors advise avoiding these medicines for about five days before the procedure. That minimizes any risk of bleeding. It’s crucial, especially when we have to remove a polyp.
Many a time, the doctors may not find any polyps after colonoscopy, which is fine. On the other hand, they do see a polyp, which happens a lot as well. For a tiny polyp, it may get overlooked or missed by the technician. Though it’s unlikely, there are several incidents reported for the same. So it’s one of the major risks of colonoscopy.
And this, over time, turns out to be pre-cancerous, and so it should be removed immediately. Doctors make multiple validations to avoid such human error. If any polyp found, the doctor can remove that polyp and hopefully prevent that colon from turning into a colon that has cancer.
What Percentage of Colonoscopy cases find Polyps?
Finding polyps are more common for aged patients. About 30 to 50% of the colonoscopies performed for people over the age of 45 to 80 have polyps.
Somewhere around 20 to 50% of those polyps turn out to be the pre-cancerous polyps. Now, pre-cancerous polyps do not have cancer cells in them, but their pathology is such that they may turn into cancer. They have cancer potential, and by removing those polyps, we can prevent colon cancer.
So to answer the question, it’s not common at all to find polyps that already have cancer in them, but it is pretty common to find polyps that have cancer potential. The idea is to remove them before cancer develops.
What Percentage of Colon Polyps are Cancerous?
It’s sporadic to find cancer in Polyps. Sometimes there might be microscopic cancer cells in these polyps, but generally, these polyps that we’re talking about are pretty small; maybe most of them less than I cm. or 2 cm. And at that size, it’s not common for there to be cancer within those polyps.
Now, usually, when these polyps get bigger and turn into cancer, it’s a much wider area; it’s an area which we can’t just remove easily by doing a colonoscopy. In those situations, it would require surgery to remove.
Now, if the doctor finds the colon cancer at an early stage, it may and likely would require surgery, but it’s safe and over 90% curable. That’s why it’s crucial to have a colonoscopy at regular intervals.
How Often Should You Have a Colonoscopy?
The recommendation is for everyone to have a colonoscopy starting at the age of 50, once every ten years. For African Americans, the advice is to start at the age of 45 because the incidence of colon cancer is a little bit higher in that population.
A lot of physicians, however, think ten years maybe a little too long to wait. There might be a small degree of human error, and we may miss a flat polyp or a polyp that may not be easily visible. Because if we don’t see a polyp or miss a polyp — which is one of the risks of colonoscopy, and it may grow to a cancerous polyp by that time. Studies showed that these pre-cancerous polyps might turn into cancer in less amount of time than ten years. Sometimes it may take seven years for them to turn into cancer.
Ideal Gap between Colonoscopies.
So, in general, a lot of physicians are recommending colonoscopies every five years.
Now, if someone has a history of colon polyps or polyps are found during your colonoscopy, especially if they’re pre-cancerous, then we want to check back in 5 years or even less, depending on the nature and the number of polyps. Doctors decide the duration based on the pathology reports for the polyps. It goes the same for patients who have had a family history of colon cancer. Those patients are advised to do it every 3 to 5 years, even though they don’t have polyps.
Colonoscopy Risks vs Benefits.
Again, you may not need to worry much as the chances of these are meager. Moreover, the benefits of the procedure far outweigh any of the risks of colonoscopy. That’s why it’s recommended for everyone to undergo this process without any fear. The benefits, of course, colon cancer prevention. So it actually can save lives by doing colonoscopies on time.