Have you ever watched the show Mythbusters? This show reveals that many things we consider factual are actually untrue. We know most people have misconceptions about colonoscopies, believing they are true. Unfortunately, this prevents the majority of Americans from getting screened for colorectal cancer. Today, we reveal the myths associated with colonoscopies and share the truth behind this very important procedure.
- I Don’t Have To Worry Yet
Doctors recommend that men and women schedule their first colonoscopy when they turn 50 years old. Many adults believe they don’t have to worry about it for several more years. However, a number should not keep you from getting screened earlier if you are at risk for colorectal cancer or already show signs. Symptoms of colorectal cancer include a bloody stool, changes in your bowel movements that last for several days, or abdominal pain. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to contact your doctor immediately. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, you are encouraged to have a colonoscopy before you turn 50. Currently, African Americans have a higher risk for colorectal cancer and both men and women are advised to schedule a colonoscopy in their 40s. The American Cancer Society recently amended their recommendation to begin screening at age 45. This change reflects the continued rise in colon cancers found in younger patients. At this time, it is unclear if insurance companies will change coverage to agree with these new guidelines. It is important for each patient to be aware of their risk, and their coverage, and discuss both with your doctor.
- Colonoscopies Are Painful
While a colonoscopy may not be the most fun event on your calendar, it’s not painful. During the procedure, you will be under anesthesia and likely asleep. A colonoscopy is a fairly quick procedure that lasts anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. While you’re asleep, your gastroenterologist will insert a small scope through your rectum and into your colon. But don’t worry! You won’t feel anything during the exam. When you wake up after the procedure, you may experience bloating and have excess gas temporarily. This may be uncomfortable for a little while, but you should not be in any pain.
- Prepping Is The Worst Part
This is the most common misconception. In reality, the preparation is not as bad as people describe. Leading up to the procedure, you’ll be given a list of foods and beverages you can and cannot eat. Then as the colonoscopy gets closer, you’ll be advised to go on a clear liquid diet. This includes chicken or beef broth, light-colored juice or tea, and water. Your doctor will also prescribe a laxative that you’ll need to take leading up to your colonoscopy so that your bowel is empty on the day of the exam. Prepping well is the best way to guarantee a successful colonoscopy. Otherwise, your doctor will have inconclusive results and you’ll have to reschedule your procedure— which means starting the prep work all over again.
- Colonoscopies Are Unnecessary Unless You Have Cancer
If you have signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer, then yes, a colonoscopy is necessary. However, colorectal cancer is completely preventable if you participate in regular screenings. During a colonoscopy, your doctor is searching for polyps—growths on the lining of the colon. These growths are not always cancerous, but if left in the colon for a number of years, they will become malignant (cancerous). If a polyp is discovered during your colonoscopy, it will be removed and biopsied. A non-cancerous polyp (adenoma) that is removed lowers your risk of a future colorectal cancer diagnosis. If colorectal cancer is detected early, there is a 90% survival rate. So don’t let this misconception keep you from scheduling a colonoscopy—it just may save your life!
Now that you have a more honest view about colonoscopies, schedule an appointment with Cary Gastroenterology today. You’ll be glad you did!