Why Should I Get a Colonoscopy? How Can I Prep for a Colonoscopy?

It’s estimated that close to two million people are currently living with colon cancer. The good news is cases of this deadly disease have been steadily declining since the mid-1980s. Why? Because of one life-saving preventative test called the colonoscopy. 

Nick Sharma, M.D., board-certified gastroenterologist at Gastroenterology Associates of Southwest Florida, P.A., says, “The colonoscopy is a very important test because colon cancer is now the second most common killer in this country and it affects men and women equally.” 

Here’s everything you need to know about colonoscopy—including why you should consider asking your doctor about this preventative cancer screening procedure.

What Is a Colonoscopy?

Dr. Sharma says, “A colonoscopy is an exam that looks through your colon and tries to find colon polyps because I can remove those and prevent you from getting colon cancer.” During the procedure, your doctor will place you under anesthesia and insert a long, flexible tube called a colonoscope into your colon. There’s a tiny camera and light attached to the end of the colonoscope so the doctor can get a good look inside the colon. 

The images from the scope are projected onto an external monitor in the operating room. The colonoscope also allows the doctor to carefully snip off a sample of the colon (a biopsy) or remove a polyp. Colon polyps, while slow-growing, are small tissue tags or abnormal growths that can form eventually into cancer. 

 There are very few risks from this procedure and it’s one of the most effective cancer screenings available today for the colon. While no one wants to have a colonoscopy procedure, it can save your life.

Why Should I Get a Colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy can detect cancer early on and give you a better chance of surviving it. More than 52,500 people die from colon cancer each year. However, this can be prevented with a colonoscopy. Why? Because colorectal cancer can be cured—but only if it is found early on.  

Colon cancer forms from polyps, and a colonoscopy can quickly and effectively snip those from the walls of the bowel and test them for the disease. In 2017 the death rate from colon cancer was 56% higher than 2019—all because healthcare professionals have been sharing the good news that colonoscopies can spot cancer before it becomes life threatening.

The five-year survival rate is an indicator of how long patients can live with a certain form of cancer. According to the data:

  • The five-year survival rate for colon cancer when caught very early with a preventative colonoscopy is 91%
  • The five-year survival rate if the cancer has spread to surrounding tissues, organs, or lymph nodes drops to 72%
  • However, if the cancer has spread throughout the body, the five-year survival rate drops even further to 15%

What’s shocking about colorectal cancer is that there are few signs that you have it—until the cancer has advanced dramatically. That’s exactly why you should call your doctor right now for a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is a procedure that can diagnose and even prevent cancer from starting. Doesn’t that make it worth your time to have the procedure and protect your health? 

While these procedures are often preventative in scope, your doctor may also order a colonoscopy to help diagnose a specific problem you’ve been having. For example, if you’re experiencing rectal bleeding or chronic diarrhea or constipation or abdominal pain. If you’ve had colon polyps in the past that the doctor removed, you may also have a follow up colonoscopy periodically to make sure the polyps don’t come back.

When Should I Get a Colonoscopy?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting a preventative colonoscopy at age 45. However, Dr. Sharma says, “If you have a family history, you should get checked out a little earlier. If you don’t, then the general population gets checked at age 45 to 50 and then every 10 years after that.” You may also have a colonoscopy if you have inflammatory bowel disorders such as Crohn’s Disease or have a genetic syndrome that puts you at greater risk.

 The great news is that if your colon is clean, you won’t need another colonoscopy for a decade. However, if the doctor finds polyps, you’ll need a retest in three to five years.

What’s It Like to Have a Colonoscopy?

One of the most common reasons people give for avoiding a colonoscopy is the bowel prep. However, this process is much easier than it used to be and it serves an important role in the procedure itself. 

Prepping your colon for a colonoscopy is a 24-hours process that cleans the bowel out completely, typically through the use of drinkable solutions and enemas. Dr. Sharma says, “In general, the colon prep is set up so that you’re able to clean your colon in a shorter period of time and as fast as possible. That’s why we have a one-day prep.” The goal of these procedures is to rapidly empty the colon with as minimal discomfort to you as possible but also to be sure the gastrointestinal tract isn’t damaged in the process.

Dr. Sharma says, “There are various preps available for a colonoscopy, and your doctor or your advanced care provider will discuss with you what prep is best. “For example, someone who has problems with their kidneys may use a different prep than the majority of people.”

For most patients, the before, during, and after of a colonoscopy goes something like this:

Before the Colonoscopy

  • A day before the procedure you’ll switch to a liquid diet of broth, water, tea, or other clear liquids
  • During this time, you’ll start drinking the prep medication which will stimulate the bowels to empty
  • Your doctor may also have you take an enema to clean out the lower part of the colon

 During the Colonoscopy

  • You’ll visit the outpatient facility and change into a gown
  • You’ll lay on your left side on an exam table
  • Your nurse will place a small IV in your arm and you will be sedated so you can sleep through the procedure
  • The doctor will carefully insert the sigmoidoscope with the flexible tube through the colon, looking carefully for any issues
  • Air will be inserted into the colon to expand the walls so the doctor can see all the nooks and crannies inside you

After the Colonoscopy

  • You’ll wake up in the recovery room
  • Once you’re awake, your doctor will share the test results
  • During this time, you will be encouraged to pass gas (everyone does this and there is no shame in it) to get all the air out of your colon
  • You will need someone to drive you home
  • Most people feel pretty normal afterwards and can begin slowly reintroducing a light meal once they’ve gone home

 Dr. Sharma says, “It’s important that you stick to the instructions because having a clean colon makes it easier and safer for us to do a colonoscopy.” 

If you’re 45 or older and haven’t scheduled your colonoscopy, please don’t hesitate to call us or click here to schedule an appointment.

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