Colon cancer affects one in 20 Americans, making it the third-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Most cases of colon cancer are preventable through routine colonoscopy, but one out of every three Americans is not up to date on their colon screenings.
Although colon cancer rates are decreasing among men and women who are 50 and older, colon cancer incidence is steadily increasing among younger Americans. For this reason, the American Cancer Society recommends that men and women who are at average risk for colon cancer begin preventative screenings at age 45.
A colonoscopy is a life-saving procedure, so it is important to make an educated decision when selecting your gastroenterologist. Here are some guidelines to help you choose the best GI doctor in your area:
- Call several gastroenterologists and take notes. Choosing a gastroenterologist requires as much time and attention as you would dedicate to making any major purchase. Research your options, read online physician reviews, call several endoscopy centers and take detailed notes.
- Select a gastroenterologist who is board certified by the American College of Gastroenterology.
- Inquire about each GI doctor’s area of specialty. All gastroenterologists are required to complete a fellowship in gastroenterology that trains them to examine, assess, diagnose and treat digestive disease. Most fellowships last anywhere from two to four years, and during that time, gastroenterologists select a few areas of specialty. These can include pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology, celiac disease, gastroparesis or inflammatory bowel disease. When you’re seeking to schedule a colonoscopy, you will want to look for gastroenterologists who specialize in endoscopy.
- Ask the endoscopy center for the center’s ADR or an individual physician’s ADR. Adenoma detection rate (ADR) is the most important quality measure in colonoscopy. ADR is calculated by the percentage of patients in whom a physician detects one or more adenomas (precancerous polyps) during a screening colonoscopy. When choosing a gastroenterologist, keep in mind that the national average ADR is 30 percent in male patients and 20 percent in female patients.
If during your screening colonoscopy, your gastroenterologist suspects you may have a colon tumor, he or she will remove a segment for biopsy. If the growth is cancerous, you may need a surgeon who specializes in colorectal surgery to remove the tumor.
You can follow many of the same guidelines above when qualifying a surgeon, but you may want to ask about the surgeon’s area of expertise, and how many years of experience he or she has had in colorectal surgery.
If you are at least 45 and have not yet had a baseline colonoscopy, it’s time to select a gastroenterologist for your procedure. As a patient, you have a right to ask qualifying questions and inquire about physicians’ areas of specialty and expertise.