5 reasons a colonoscopy isn’t so bad
The word colonoscopy may not strike the most pleasant image a person’s mind as the procedure involves someone you barely know inserting a foreign object into a very private place. Experts say this unsettling experience is likely why so many people avoid it.
In Illinois, only 54 to 59 percent of people 50 to 75 years old are up to date on their colorectal screenings, which often includes a colonoscopy, among other tests, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Around the Midwest, that number is only slightly higher, between 59 and 63 percent.
Why is a colorectal cancer screening so important?
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death, according to the CDC. More than 90 percent of diagnoses are in people who are older than age 50. That means getting screened becomes more important between 50 and 85, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force guidelines.
During a colonoscopy, the physician uses a tube, about the width of a finger, with a camera on the end to look inside the colon. The tube is then inserted into the anus and eased into the colon. The camera takes video of the entire length of the colon and rectum, allowing the physician to see any scars, polyps or other evidence of colon cancer.
Though it is no longer national Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, which is in March, people need to remember that it’s never too late to get their first colonoscopy.
Here are five reasons Advocate Health Care physicians say a colonoscopy really isn’t that bad:
1. Colonoscopies only take about 30 minutes
The procedure is usually about the length of your favorite sitcom, including the commercials. So you don’t have to endure hours of agonizing discomfort. The longest part of the procedure is the prep work. The day before your colonoscopy is all about cleaning out your intestines with a laxative so the physician can get a good view. Your physician may also ask you to avoid solid foods and liquids after midnight before your test.
The test may take longer if a polyp is found.
2. Polyps can be removed during the colonoscopy
Polyps are tumors that grow on the intestine lining. If they are not removed, they can grow to eventually block the intestine. Genetic mutations can even cause them to eventually become cancerous, even though they start out small and benign. After it is removed during the colonoscopy, your physician can send it for further testing to make sure it doesn’t indicate cancer.
About 40 percent of people over age 50 end up having pre-cancerous polyps, and up to 10 percent of those will turn into cancer if they are not removed, according to the National Cancer Institute.
3. You may be put to sleep
There is a possibility you could be sedated during your colonoscopy if you’re concerned about the discomfort. If fact, this is a pretty popular option as 1 percent of colonoscopies are done without sedation.
But, there are some advantages to staying awake.
If you’re the really intrepid type — or just really curious about what your insides look like— you can watch the entire procedure “live” while it happens on video.
4. You may not need a colonoscopy every year
Doctors recommend getting a colonoscopy at age 50, and you may only need one every 10 years if your first test results are normal and your physician determines that you don’t have any other high-risk factors that would warrant more frequent testing, like a family history, according to the Preventive Services Task Force.
In the case that your physician finds two or more polyps, or one that was larger in size during your first screening, you may have to come back in three years or five years for another test, according the U.S. Multi-Society Task Force on Colorectal Cancer and the American Cancer Society.
After age 85, the Preventive Services Task Force recommends you likely don’t need the test anymore.
5. Getting tested can save your life
Perhaps the best reason to just get it over with is that colorectal cancer screenings are our best bet for detecting the cancer early. This makes a cure much more likely.
Studies have shown that colonoscopies can cut colorectal cancer deaths by 53 percent, according to a February 2012 study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Their lifesaving power lies in the ability to detect and remove polyps early.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.