Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths, with an estimated 1 in 23 men and 1 in 25 women being diagnosed in their lifetime. One of the most frightening aspects of colon cancer or colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon and rectum) is its ability to metastasize. This refers to when cancer spreads to other organs in the body, such as the liver or lungs. Colon cancer often manifests with no symptoms, and unfortunately, many patients do not realize that they have colon cancer until it reaches the later stages. The survival outlook for colon cancer drops significantly as it reaches these later stages (stages III and IV).
However, the good news is that early detection is possible through colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is the gold standard when it comes to the detection of colon cancer, but many people are wary of it because of rumors and myths they’ve heard from others. A colonoscopy isn’t so bad—and it can be an absolute lifesaver. Read on to learn more about colonoscopy and five reasons why it isn’t so bad.
What Is a Colonoscopy and How Is it Performed?
The tool used during a colonoscopy is known as a colonoscope. This scope checks for abnormalities in the colon (also known as the large intestine). A colonoscope is a thin tube with a camera that is inserted into the anal canal to get a better look at the colon. While this may sound a little scary, you’ll be sedated and won’t feel a thing with the administration of an anesthesia IV line and pain medication. During the procedure, your physician will slightly inflate the colon with carbon dioxide to look for polyps. Polyps, which are small bumps of abnormal tissue, are a telltale sign of colon or colorectal cancer.
How Long Is the Colonoscopy Procedure?
Patients often worry that they’ll have to take significant time off work or have a hospital stay. This is a myth—colonoscopy is a quick, in-and-out outpatient procedure with very little recovery time needed. The length of time that a colonoscopy takes depends entirely on if your healthcare provider finds polyps or not. Your physician may also take a biopsy (tissue sample) during the procedure. A routine colonoscopy only takes 15 minutes to an hour to complete. Following the procedure, you’ll rest for an hour while the anesthesia wears off. (It’s still best to have someone with you to drive you home).
Why Isn’t a Colonoscopy So Bad?
It is the colonoscopy prep that worries many patients. Perhaps they heard stories from friends or saw a show on TV that paints colonoscopy in a negative light. However, the procedure is painless and short, and even the colonoscopy prep isn’t as bad as you think. Here are five reasons why a colonoscopy isn’t awful:
- The prep isn’t as bad as you’ve heard. In previous years, prep could take a fair amount of time, and the powder that you had to drink had an unpleasant taste. In modern times, however, you can mix the powder with a beverage you enjoy, such as Gatorade or juice (but nothing colored red or pink), to mask the flavor. Also, very often, you can split the prep in half. Your doctor may have you drink half of the solution the day before your colonoscopy and half the day of the procedure. This would mean you would only have to take a half-day off the day prior to the colonoscopy. The prep will indeed empty your bowels, but this isn’t as bad as it’s played up to be.
- You won’t be a statistic. There’s no way to put it gently—colon cancer can be deadly if it’s not detected in the early stages. Take-home tests aren’t nearly as accurate as colonoscopy, and you risk getting a negative result when colon cancer is present. The survival rate for stage I colon cancer is 90%, however, the survival rate for stage IV colon cancer drops significantly, to 14%. This is why early detection and colonoscopy are so imperative.
- Insurance has your back. Everyone gets jittery about potential medical costs—but as colonoscopy is a diagnostic screening, it is fully covered by insurance. Just be careful if you are between the ages of 45 and 50. The American Cancer Society announced in 2018 that men and women 45 and over should schedule their first colonoscopy, while other official organizations kept the 50+ threshold, so check with your insurance company. If you are at high risk (family or personal history of colon cancer, rectal cancer, colorectal cancer, or polyps), insurance will cover the cost at any age.
- A colonoscopy can be both a diagnosis and treatment. Colonoscopy is one of the few diagnostic procedures where your physician can diagnose you and treat you in the same visit. If your doctor does find polyps in your colon or rectum, they can be removed during the procedure. You’ll have to follow up closely with your doctor to ensure they don’t return, but if you have early-stage colon cancer, your healthcare provider can treat it on the spot. Also, colonoscopy can detect other conditions as well, such as diverticulitis and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Colonoscopy also gives you a chance to slow down and rest. You may hear a lot of ideas when it comes to digestive and colonic health. Many people attempt colon cleanses at home to rid the large intestine of toxins. Colonoscopy is the perfect opportunity to thoroughly cleanse your colon, and you may feel better as a result. While you don’t have to take too much time off from work or the family, you also get the chance to rest for two days, which is a must-needed luxury for many.
Gastroenterologists in Needham, MA Are Ready to Help
If you need more information about colonoscopy or would like to schedule your annual procedure, contact us at Needham Gastro to be seen by a physician. We provide complete, comprehensive care for all types of gastrointestinal disorders and conditions.