Colonoscopies have an unfounded reputation of being unpleasant. And everyone has reasons for not getting one. Often, the rationale is based on misunderstandings – both about the procedure and colon cancer. People may not realize that colon cancer is one of the most preventable cancers and that a colonoscopy is a short, painless test that can save their life.
When colorectal cancer is detected in its early stages before it has spread, the five-year relative survival rate is about 90 percent. However, only about four out of 10 colorectal cancers are found at this early stage. So there’s a massive benefit to being tested and catching any cancerous lesions as soon as possible.
Below we dispel some commonly held myths and misconceptions about the colonoscopy procedure.
Myth #1: A colonoscopy will hurt
A colonoscopy is not as bad as you think. During the procedure, which only takes about 15-30 minutes, you’ll be sedated to eliminate discomfort and can resume normal activities the following day.
“Many people are concerned when they come to see us,” says Raaj K. Popli, M.D., a board-certified gastroenterologist at Digestive Disease Consultants. “One of the principal procedures that we do is a colonoscopy, and many patients are frightened that this is going to be a very painful, embarrassing experience. And quite simply, it typically is not anything like that. We use sedation with all of our procedures, and the sedation results in an amazingly comfortable and pleasant experience for the vast majority of patients.”
Before a colonoscopy, patients are given a combination of a narcotic and sedative called “conscious sedation.” About 95 percent of patients sleep through the entire procedure and wake up with no memory of the experience. About 5 percent of people experience mild cramping or pressure, similar to the urge to have a bowel movement.
If you are worried about discomfort or have any concerns related to the procedure, please talk to your GI doctor. They can help alleviate your fear and discuss different options with you.
“We want to share the patient experiences in a friendly and warm environment here at Digestive Disease Consultants,” says Dr. Popli. “We’re able to do colonoscopies onsite. We have a very dedicated staff that does only these procedures, and our outcome scores are in the 95th percentile for patient satisfaction.”
Myth #2: The Preparation Will Be Horrible
Drinking a bowel preparation is one of the leading deterrents to having a colonoscopy. The good news is: bowel preparation has never been easier. You won’t need to gulp down a gallon of salty solution; you can now choose half-gallon options. Moreover, many physicians prescribe a split dose, where you take half the prep the night before and the other half on the morning of the procedure.
“Patients do have some trepidation with some of the preparations, but we want to assure people that the preparations, there are many options out there,” says Dr. Popli. “And many of them also are not quite as uncomfortable as they used to be in the past.”
For those who can’t drink fluids, some pills can be taken to clean out the colon. To deal with the typically salty taste of the prep solution, consider mixing it with 7UP, ginger ale, or Gatorade to make it more palatable. It’s essential to finish all the preparation solution. Research suggests doctors may miss at least one precancerous growth in about one-third of patients who don’t properly prepare.
The cleaner your colon, the better your doctor can detect polyps, which is why you’re there after all.
Myth #3: “I’m not at risk for colon cancer.”
The truth is that one in 18 men and women will get colon cancer in their lifetime, and colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the U.S. Your risk of getting colorectal cancer increases as you age; over 90% of those diagnosed with the disease are aged 50 years or older.
“Many people are aware of the colonoscopy,” says Dr. Popli. “The current guidelines state that all Americans over the age of 50 should get screened for colorectal cancer, and we can prevent colon cancer in many instances with early screening. Here at Palm Endoscopy Center, we perform colonoscopies in a safe, friendly and pain-free environment. Most of our patients report great satisfaction with the procedure. There’s a lot of fear regarding a colonoscopy, but we happily answer all of those fears, and most people come out with a great experience.”
If you have any questions about colonoscopy or colorectal cancer, please feel free to reach out to us. We’ll be happy to address any of your concerns.