Just the word “colonoscopy” is enough to send some people running in the other direction. It may not be a pretty word or as fun to think about as, say, where you’ll travel when you retire. But the colonoscopy is an important procedure that can save your life and help keep you healthy enough to do all that traveling.
So let’s get on with the difficult but necessary task of talking this thing through.
We’ll start with some basic facts about colorectal cancer
Facts About Colorectal Cancer
If we exclude skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States.
In 2015, the American Cancer Society saw approximately 93,000 new cases of colon cancer and nearly 40,000 new cases of rectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths for men and women (together) in the United States.
Colorectal cancer caused approximately 49,000 deaths in 2015.
So now that you’ve been sufficiently alerted to the seriousness of colorectal cancer, we’d like to relieve some of the fear and anxiety we may have caused. These three facts ought to do it:
- The death rate for men and women with colorectal cancer is decreasing
- Colon cancer is one of the most preventable cancers
- Colonoscopies save lives
Yes, we know the colonoscopy has a reputation for being an uncomfortable procedure, but what do know about it beyond that?
At Precision Research Institute in San Diego, people come to us all the time with strange notions about colonoscopies, many of which are not based in truth. We’re hoping to debunk some of those myths today so that you see the colonoscopy procedure the way we do: as the difference between life and death.
Myth 1: If I don’t have symptoms, I don’t need a colonoscopy
A colonoscopy detects precancerous growths (polyps) in your colon. This is what makes colon cancer one of the most preventable cancers: it catches those polyps before they turn into cancer and begin causing symptoms. So…no, you wouldn’t want to wait until you have symptoms to get your colonoscopy. On average, endoscopists find precancerous polyps in 15-25% of colonoscopy patients.
Myth 2: Colonoscopy “prep” is not worth it
Bowel preparation is a part of the procedure, and no it’s not exactly fun. But today it’s easier than it used to be. If you have trouble with the volume of the prep drink, you can split your dose between the evening before and the morning of the procedure. And, yes, it most certainly is worth it: a clean colon can help your physician better detect those polyps before they turn into cancer.
Myth 3: A Colonoscopy will hurt
Believe it or not, aside from some potential cramping (which very few people experience), pain is not a part of the deal. With a combination of a narcotic and a “conscious sedation” sedative, most people sleep through their colonoscopy procedure and don’t even remember the exam. When they wake up, it’s over and done with.
Myth 4: A Colonoscopy is embarrassing
At Precision Research Institute in San Diego, we have spent many years in the field of gastroenterology, and we’ve seen it all. For us, as with most doctors, we see the human body and all its parts as a working machine. As for embarrassment, there’s no need for it. We’re focused on the diagnostic or therapeutic task at hand. Nothing else. At the same time, we understand that a colonoscopy is an invasive procedure, and we’ll do everything we can to keep you comfortable.
Myth 5: A Colonoscopy is too risky
You don’t need to worry. The risk of perforation is less than 1 in 1,000, and less than 1% of people experience bleeding. The risks of getting colon cancer (1 in 20) are much higher than the risks of complications in a colonoscopy. When your colonoscopy is done by experienced gastrointestinal medical professionals like those of us at Precision Research Institute, you can trust that it will be an extremely safe procedure.
A Colonoscopy is worth it
No one wants to get a colonoscopy, but the risk of not getting one is much greater than the annoyance of just doing it. If it helps, think of your colonoscopy as a payment into your retirement travel account. Surely the discomfort of the procedure is worth preventing a serious disease from ruining your travel plans.