Have You Had Your Colonoscopy? They're Not as Bad as You Think
Here’s why you shouldn’t be afraid of this life-saving screening test
If you’re over 50 and you haven’t gotten a colonoscopy yet, ask yourself why not.
Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death for both men and women. Yet it’s preventable. Screening tests — particularly colonoscopies — can help find it and even stop it in its very early stages.
A colonoscopy not only provides a good view of your colon, it also allows the doctor to remove polyps, take tissue samples for biopsy and stop any bleeding.
People at average risk for colon cancer need to have one only once every 10 years beginning at age 50 (45 for African Americans). People at high risk, such as those with a family history of colon cancer or who have an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s, need to get them more often.
So why do less than half of people who should get screened actually do it? Maybe it’s because these life-saving tests have been given a bad rap. Despite what you may have heard, a colonoscopy can be done with little discomfort.
For people who may be afraid of the unknown, here’s the entire colonoscopy process in just five steps.
1. Bowel prep
This may be the least pleasant step and it is all up to you. It can start several days before the procedure with avoiding high-fiber foods, fatty foods, seeds and tough meats. In fact, sticking to a pre-colonoscopy diet can make the laxative part of this step, which is done the day before and the morning of your colonoscopy, a lot easier.
The cleansing part of the prep involves taking laxatives, drinking fluids and sometimes using an enema. You may want to stock your bathroom magazine rack since you will be in there a lot in order to clean everything out of your colon. This is an incredibly important step because it allows your doctor to have an unobstructed view. A colon that isn’t properly cleaned may mean a repeat colonoscopy. So do it right the first time.
While a colonoscopy can be done without sedatives, using them is the popular choice. The medication will make you sleepy and relaxed during the procedure. Many people find they don’t remember the procedure afterward. Sedatives are usually administered through a vein and can take a few hours to wear off. You will need someone to take you home because you may not be fully alert until much later in the day.
3. Insertion of the colonoscope
Once you’ve been placed on your side with your knees tucked toward your chest, your doctor will insert this thin, flexible tube with a camera into the anus. Air is added to help the instrument pass through the colon safely and to improve your doctor’s ability to see every part of the colon. As the tool is slowly withdrawn, the doctor inspects the lining of the colon.
4. Removal of anything suspicious
Your doctor is looking for anything unusual, such as abnormal growths on the lining of the colon, known as polyps. While most polyps are not harmful, some can turn into cancer, so most small polyps are removed. If a larger polyp is found, part of it may be removed for biopsy (to check if it’s cancerous).
Thanks to the sedation, it may take a little while to fully wake up. Once awake, you may feel a bit bloated due to the air inserted during the procedure, which can mean gas pain. While serious complications are rare, your doctor will tell you any symptoms to watch out for, such as heavy bleeding or extreme belly pain. It’s common for people to get back to work, or their regular routine, the next day.