Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. As with most cancers, your chances of survival are higher when the cancer is found early. In fact, 90% of people live five or more years when colorectal cancer is detected early.
Unfortunately, not enough people get tested for colon cancer. Many adults have either never been tested, or have failed to get up-to-date screening. Fear and embarrassment are the primary reasons people tend to avoid or put off the procedure. Our experts at Hawaii Gastroenterology Specialists weigh in on why you shouldn’t fear getting a colonoscopy and how it can save your life.
The importance of getting a colonoscopy
Currently, colonoscopy is the best colorectal screening test available. A colonoscopy test not only prevents colon cancer, it reduces deaths from the disease each year. More than 140,000 people are diagnosed with colon cancer each year. Since colon cancer often causes no symptoms until the later stages of the disease, colonoscopies play a vital role in saving lives.
Colonoscopies detect precancerous changes
Colonoscopies allow our doctors to examine the lining of your colon and check for tumors and changes that may increase the risk of cancer, such as polyps. If any abnormal growths are found, they can be removed immediately. This increases the likelihood that we’ll catch any abnormalities before they have a chance to develop into cancer. Routine screening through colonoscopy makes it possible for our physicians to spot tumors in the early stages as well, thus increasing your chance of survival.
Nothing to fear
Many people put off or avoid getting a colonoscopy because they think the procedure may be painful or embarrassing, and they’re fearful of the results. While it’s understandable to feel anxious about any medical procedure, it should be reassuring to know that colonoscopy is a safe and effective procedure that saves lives.
Here are a few things that should put you at ease when it comes to having a colonoscopy.
The colonoscope tube isn’t dreadful
The mere mention of the word colonoscopy often fills patients with dreaded images of a large tube going inside them. The reality is that the colonoscope is a thin, flexible tube that is well-tolerated and allows your provider to look closely at the inside of your large intestine. You may feel some pressure but should not feel pain.
You’ll likely receive a sedative during your colonoscopy to help you relax. Many patients fall asleep or rest comfortably and don’t even remember it. In most cases, the procedure itself takes less than an hour.
There’s nothing to be embarrassed about
Some people fear the embarrassment of having someone look inside their colon. You should know that in order to see abnormalities within the colon, it is prepped starting the day before so that it’s clean. After preparation, there is nothing in the colon and it looks no different from your mouth or throat. Because there is no undigested food or residue, you have nothing to feel embarrassed about.
The prep is easier than you think
Many people dread the colonoscopy prep as much as the procedure itself. The truth is, prepping for a colonoscopy isn’t as unpleasant as you may think. Colonoscopy prep empties out your colon so that your provider can see it clearly. If you don’t clean it out well, your physician may miss an abnormality, such as a polyp.
For a day or two before the procedure, you’ll need to stop eating solid foods and switch to a liquid colonoscopy diet. You’ll also be instructed to drink a special liquid that helps clean out the colon. While you will need to plan to make trips to the toilet, the prep solution is necessary and well-tolerated. Many patients mention that it’s easier than they anticipated.
The importance of getting a colonoscopy
In fact, the American Cancer Society updated its guidelines for colorectal cancer screening. It now recommends that people at average risk of colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45. People are considered "average risk" if they DO NOT have a personal history of colorectal cancer or certain types of colon polyps, a family history of colorectal cancer, a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn disease or ulcerative colitis), a genetic colorectal cancer syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome (also known as hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer or HNPCC), or a personal history of radiation treatment to the abdomen or pelvis for prior cancer. (Link to ACS guideline: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/acs-recommendations.html).
Schedule your colonoscopy
There’s no need to panic if you’ve been told that you need a colonoscopy. This life-saving procedure is well-tolerated, safe, and effective.
To schedule your colonoscopy, contact our office at Hawaii Gastroenterology Specialists. Serving patients in the Honolulu and Aiea areas, our board-certified specialists provide compassionate care. Call the nearest office or schedule your appointment online today.