Yes, It’s Time For That Test
Schedule A Colonoscopy To Prevent Cancer And Ensure Good Colon Health
Article By Erik J. Martin, CTW Features
Nobody likes to talk about it. Many postpone or avoid it entirely. And chances are you probably clench up just thinking about it and what’s involved.
But the truth is, it’s a relatively painless and standard procedure that can save your life.
Yes, we’re talking about a colonoscopy. And if you’re over age 50, it’s a conversation you should be having with your doctor, as it’s recommended at this age every few years.
“Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States. But it can be prevented and cured if detected early,” says Alia Hasham, MD, clinical assistant professor of gastroenterology at Montefiore Health System and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. “A colonoscopy is the best way to screen for colorectal cancer because it has the benefit of directly examining the large intestine, also called the colon.”
Bryan Curtin, MD, director of neurogastroenterology and motility for Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, says everyone—regardless of race, gender or background—is at risk for colon cancer.
“It’s an insidious disease where symptoms do not show up until the cancer is typically widespread, so it’s essential to get screened to protect yourself,” explains Curtin.
The benefit of having a colonoscopy in your 50s, before symptoms develop, is that “removal of a polyp or small cancer is a lot easier on the patient than removal and treatment of a large tumor, and the cure rates are higher,” says Noelle LoConte, MD, an oncologist at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center in Madison, Wisconsin. “In fact, the American Cancer Society now recommends getting your first colonoscopy at age 45.”
Most say the most uncomfortable part of the process occurs the day before the procedure.
“You have to undergo a bowel prep at home, which typically involves eating a clear liquid diet the day before and drinking strong laxatives to clean out your stool,” Curtin notes.
The colonoscopy itself occurs at a hospital or medical clinic the next morning.
“When you arrive, you’re given anesthesia for comfort, which often involves a combination of Versed, Propofol and Fentanyl,” adds Curtin. “Count on taking the whole day off, as effects from the anesthesia can linger for up to 24 hours.”
Loren Brook, MD, assistant professor in the Division of Digestive Diseases at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Medicine, says the colonoscopy procedure, which involves rectally inserting a flexible tube with a camera, usually takes about 30 to 60 minutes.
“While performing a colonoscopy, the physician is looking for anything abnormal in the colon. This can include small outgrowths, called polyps, colon cancer and aberrant vessels,” says Brook.
You may feel gas or bloating during or after the procedure, as gas is inserted into the colon to inflate it, but this will pass.
You’ll likely be permitted to return to your normal diet and medications hours after the test if the doctor permits you. The results of the test are typically available a few weeks later, often to be discussed with your doctor during a follow-up visit.
“Before committing to a colonoscopy, ask your doctor if it’s the right test for you,” Hasham suggests. “There are other screening options available, especially if you have certain medical conditions that might make the procedure unsafe.”
Your fight to protect your large intestine doesn’t end after the colonoscopy. Your doctor may recommend that you repeat the procedure every 10 years (or perhaps every three to five years if polyps or problems were identified). And there’s plenty you can do on your own to improve colon health, too.
“Maintain a healthy body weight, increase your physical activity, try to maintain a regular exercise routine, increase your intake of dietary fiber, reduce intake of red and processed meats, stop smoking and moderate your intake of alcoholic beverages. Also, speak to family members to learn if anyone has had colon polyps or colorectal cancer, as this may increase your risk,” recommends Hasham.