Colonoscopy myths debunked

Colonoscopy myths debunked

While getting a colonoscopy may not be at the top of your list of most exciting things to do, you already know how important can be in the prevention and detection of colorectal cancer.

“People avoid getting colonoscopies for various reasons,” says Michele Sobeck, gastroenterology nurse practitioner at Aurora Medical Center – Bay Area in Marinette, Wis. “Some are embarrassed, some are worried about the process, some don’t think they need it. And then others are worried about the results. Modern advancements actually help to put much of this to rest.”

Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death among men and women, excluding skin cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. That’s a good reason to confront myths about colonoscopies head on.

Myth #1:  Colonoscopies hurt.

“It is rare for a colonoscopy to be painful,” Sobeck explains. “Most patients are consciously sedated and don’t remember hardly any of it.” One of the most common sensations felt by the few who express discomfort after the procedure explain it as the need to have a bowel movement.

Myth #2:  I don’t have any symptoms, so I don’t need a colonoscopy.

In fact, colorectal cancer rarely presents symptoms until the disease has progressed. The good news? Screening via colonoscopies could help prevent colorectal cancer deaths. Talk to your doctor about whether one is right for you. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screenings via colonoscopy for adults “beginning at age 50 years and continuing until age 75.”

Myth #3:  The preparation for a colonoscopy is the worst.

If you’ve never had a colonoscopy, here’s the scoop: You need to empty your bowels before the procedure. To do so, you should follow a colonoscopy-prep diet for a full day before the procedure: Drink clear liquids and consume no solid foods and dairy. Also before the procedure, you’ll be given an electrolyte solution to help fully clear your bowels.

“Try to keep in mind why you’re having the procedure done: To ensure you’re living well and will continue to live well without colorectal cancer,” says Sobeck. “Colonoscopy prep is nothing compared to colorectal cancer.”

While colonoscopies are important, Sobeck and the American Cancer Society offer some tips to use outside of your regular colonoscopy timeframe to prevent colorectal cancer:

  • Maintain a healthy weight (take a quick, free online assessment to learn more about your healthy weight by clicking here)
  • Keep a regular fitness regimen
  • Quit smoking
  • Reduce your intake of red or processed meat and alcohol
  • Increase your consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain fiber

To learn more about your risk for colorectal cancer, take a free, quick online assessment by clicking here.

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  1. Screening is super important. For those who don’t want to deal with the hassle of getting a colonoscopy, there are several cheaper and non invasive options for colon cancer screening, that can be just as effective at detecting cancer.
    No need to get an invasive procedure just for screening when alternatives exist.
    Definitely get screened, but colonoscopy isn’t the only option out there.

  2. Colonoscopies are now recommended beginning at age 45. You also don’t talk about how a colonoscopy can prevent cancer (finding and removing polyps that can turn cancerous.)

  3. Perhaps one’s physician should weigh in, but I don’t think it’s true that the various non-invasive screening tools are as effective in detecting or even preventing cancer (by removing polyps before they become cancerous). In my experience methods such as checking for occult fecal blood in the stool are used as a preliminary screening methods and when positive are followed up by a colonoscopy.

  4. Obviously colonoscopies are very important, but I find it troublesome that articles like this try to minimize how really uncomfortable it is. The prep is awful and you need to stay close to a toilet the entire day (that means you probably can’t go to work). A “diet” of clear liquids pretty much means water (or jello if you can tolerate the taste which I can’t). I have had several colonoscopies and I have learned to beg the anesthesiologist for extra sedation because it is so very painful. If you are completely knocked out, you won’t feel anything, but if you’re just in “twilight” it is excruciating. And, of course, you need to have someone pick you up afterward so not only does the procedure take two days for you, it takes a day fora friend or family member also. An honest discussion of what is involved would be much more helpful than a sugar-coated overview like this one. But, still, it is much better than colorectal cancer.

  5. That’s what scares me the most …. the awful prep!! & i can’t take 3 days off work because I’m going to be crapping my brains out! 😔

  6. I have Lynch Syndrome, a genetic predisposition to colon cancer as high as an 80% lifetime chance of developing it. It requires that I get annual colonoscopies in order to help reduce my risk by removal of polyps. I guess you could say I have a little bit of experience with colonoscopies… 10 so far. The prep is annoying and one inconvenient day of throne-sitting, but *nothing* compared to chemo, radiation, and having your colon removed. I just tell myself to put the big girl panties on and deal with it.

  7. Colon cancer survivor September 5, 2019 at 4:01 pm · Reply

    A colonoscopy at 50 yrs old has saved my life. I am now 12 years cancer free. A very large polyp was found and treatment was a laproscopic hemicolectomy and colonoscopy screenings every year, 2-3 years and now have graduated to every 5 years. No chemo or radiation. Yes, I always dread the prep but I tell myself I wouldn’t be here today if not for that colonoscopy screening at age 50. And yes you pretty much have to take a whole day off especially if you schedule the procedure early in the day. But….. Advocate Lutheran General Hospital has Saturday appointments so you don’t have to take off 2 days from work. Please, don’t let the prep scare you – it’s much scarier to have cancer.

  8. Gloria Picchetti September 5, 2019 at 4:06 pm · Reply

    I got lucky with the examination. I took the new preparation liquid called Supprep. My best friend drove. Even though they said I would be slight aware I completely passed out. The exam was scheduled for Monday. I was able to work on Tuesday with no problems. There was only one benign polyp at 70!
    The only problems were a couple hospital things like a rude security guard, not being able to find the right place, and things like that. When push comes to shove medical is just rude.

  9. Agree with Eva. The colonoscopy itself was no big deal but the prep was beyond nasty. I choked down the electrolyte solution and threw it up a little while later, and poured the second dose down the sink rather than go through that again.

    Yes, still got the bowels clear, and everything was fine. Still nasty, though.

  10. How often do you recommend getting a Colonoscopy? You are Talking to an RN of 30 plus years at Advocate IL Masonic Med Center. I will turn 65 in Jan 2020 . I had one colonoscopy at age approx 55 which was WNL. I’m now in Home Health and I have heard about a different procedure where you swallow a tiny camera to take picture as it makes it down GI tract? Is this my hallucination or is it maybe possibe in the future. I do agree the test is very easy with an expert GI MD board certified but current prep is not great. Maybe if the quantity of liquid in the prep was way less I would do it sooner than later.

  11. My sister died at the age of 34 from colon cancer, leaving behind a husband and 3 little kids. I’ve had to go for colonoscopies since my mid-twenties. Yes, the prep is awful but the alternative of death is much worse. IF the prep is what worries you discuss it with your doctor. I’ve had to use different preps with different physicians. They are there to help you and really don’t try and make it any worse than it has to be.

  12. What are the symptoms before you should opt for colonoscopy?

About the Author

Brianna Wunsch
Brianna Wunsch

Brianna Wunsch, health enews contributor, is a public affairs specialist for Advocate Aurora Health with a BA in public affairs from University of Wisconsin - Green Bay. In her free time, Brianna enjoys living an active lifestyle through biking, hiking and working out at the gym, but even more than that, she especially loves spending quality time with her two cats (Arthur and Loki), son and husband.