Nearly everyone has heard the horror stories about colonoscopy and colonoscopy prep—but there are persuasive reasons for scheduling that colonoscopy. While a colonoscopy can detect other gastrointestinal issues, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), diverticulitis, and colitis, its primary function is to screen for colon cancer, rectal cancer, and colorectal cancer.m).
Colon cancer can affect anyone—both men and women—and it’s estimated that 5 to 6 percent of people will have colon cancer in their lifetime. It’s the second leading cause of cancer death, with lung cancer being the first. When colon cancer is discovered early with colonoscopy, the chances of survival and eradicating the cancer are much higher. In addition to this, colonoscopy really isn’t that bad. It’s a simple, outpatient procedure that can potentially be a lifesaver.
Colon cancer is the #2 leading cause of cancer death, and the American Cancer Society estimates that 1 in 23 men and 1 in 24 women will
What Exactly Is Colonoscopy?
You may have heard a lot of negative feedback about colonoscopy without actually knowing what the test is and what it does. Colonoscopy is the first-line diagnostic test when it comes to the detection of colon cancer, far surpassing at-home tests or other diagnostics. A colonoscope is a thin, flexible that is inserted into the anal canal. A tiny HD camera is at the end of the scope, which gives your healthcare provider a birds-eye view of your colon (also known as the large intestine).
Your doctor may take tissue samples (biopsy) from the colon lining to check for any abnormalities during the procedure. However, colonoscopy is the only diagnostic procedure that can detect and treat cancer in the same procedure. If your physician notices polyps (abnormal, often cancerous growths) in your colon, they can remove them during the colonoscopy. If you are in the early stages of colon cancer, a colonoscopy can eradicate the cancer, requiring you to come back for frequent checkups—but you’ll be polyp-free at the time of the test.
How Long Is a Colonoscopy?
You may also worry that you’ll have to take too much time off from work or away from your family to have the procedure performed. Around 72 hours before the procedure, you’ll have to switch to a clear liquid diet, but you can keep your daily life and tasks as you normally would. About 12 to 24 hours before the procedure, you will begin to drink the prep, which will empty your bowels. Some physicians may have you do this the night before, while others may have you drink some of the prep the night before and some the day of. Generally, a colonoscopy will require 12 to 24 hours of prep time.
The procedure itself only takes about 15 to 60 minutes. If there are no abnormalities, the procedure is shorter. You’ll need a little bit of recovery time after anesthesia before you can return home (be sure to bring someone to drive you!), but you can go home immediately after. You should rest for the remainder of the day, but your physician will likely tell you that you can resume regular duties the next day. So, colonoscopy really won’t detract from your life and responsibilities—it’s a painless, quick procedure.
So, Why Isn’t Colonoscopy So Bad?
There are five (and more) reasons why a colonoscopy isn’t as bad as what you may have heard. Some of the reasons include:
- It can save your life. There really is no better reason to schedule a colonoscopy, as it can keep you from being a statistic. Early detection is imperative when it comes to colon cancer. Like other forms of cancer, there are various stages and substages of colon cancer, ranging from 0 to IV. Stage 0 is the pre-cancerous stage, while stage I colon cancer means it is localized and only in the colon (colon cancer), rectum (rectal cancer), or both (colorectal cancer). Stage IV is the most severe, which means that the cancer has spread to other organs, such as the lungs and liver. Stage I colon cancer has an approximate 91% five-year survival rate, while stage IV colon cancer has a 14% five-year survival rate. This is why scheduling your colonoscopy, and early detection are so important. If the cancer is found early, you have a much better chance of survival.
- The prep really isn’t that bad. Colonoscopy prep may have been rough years ago, but modern medicine has made prep so much easier on the patient. Yourphysician will likely opt for split prep, which means you’ll ingest some of the liquid laxative at night and some the next morning, before the procedure. It’s true that you shouldn’t make any plans—the laxative will cause you to empty your bowels completely—but this is a relatively short period of discomfort when you consider the fact that colonoscopy can save your life. The night before, it may take up to three hours for you to empty your bowels, but the frequency will cease, and you’ll be able to get some rest. The following day, most of the fecal matter will already be emptied, so the results will be much less intense.
- Colonoscopy is painless. While you may experience some abdominal discomfort while you’re emptying your bowels, the procedure itself is painless. You’ll be given localized anesthesia, so that you won’t feel the colonoscope or any part of the procedure. Keep in mind that the procedure is also very quick, and you’ll likely be able to return to work the next day. Some patients experience slight rectal bleeding afterward, but this is painless as well.
- It’s covered by insurance. As this is a diagnostic procedure, you may be worried about the cost—but don’t. Insurance will cover your colonoscopy if you’re age 50 or above. However, the American Cancer Society does recommend that those 45 and over schedule their first colonoscopy. Before you schedule, check with your insurance company if you’re between the ages of 45 and 50. It’s likely covered, but not all insurance companies have caught up with this newer recommendation just yet.
- Colonoscopy can discover more than colon cancer. If you’ve been having irregular bowel movements, other gastrointestinal distress, or just plain don’t feel well, there may be a reason for it. While colonoscopy is most associated with colorectal cancer detection, it can detect other underlying issues as well, such as IBD and diverticulitis. This allows your healthcare providers to offer you the proper treatment, so your quality of life is improved.
Talk to your doctor about colonoscopy if:
- You are age 45 or over
- You are experiencing irregular bowel movements or other types of gastrointestinal distress
- You are 40 or over with a history of colon cancer, polyps, or other bowel problems in the family (such as IBD or irritable bowel syndrome)
If you need more information about colon cancer or colonoscopy, or you’d like to be seen by a physician or schedule an exam, contact us at Gastro Florida today. Our GI Doctors in Tampa, Florida provide thorough, comprehensive care and diagnostics for all types of gastrointestinal concerns.