There are so many different types of screening for various cancers out there, but it seems like the biggest one that men and women alike seem to fear is colonoscopies. I’m not really sure why! I mean, I get it, it’s an awkward exam, your getting a probe put up your butt into your colon, but you don’t even know it’s happening, and it can save your life…plus, day off of work anyone?? I want to let you know what to expect, how to feel, how to get ready, and most importantly, when to actually get your screening done!
What is a colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is a screening exam for colon cancer and other abnormalities in the large intestine (colon) and rectum. A long flexible tube with a camera at the top, is inserted into the rectum and it travels all the way up the colon looking for abnormalities and has the ability to remove small pieces of tissue to biopsy and send for testing. With the camera, your HCP can see all the way up your large intestine and view all aspects. It really sounds like not so much fun, but read on it gets better, I promise!!
When should I get screened for colon cancer and polyps?
The golden rule is that you should start getting screened at the age of 50 (per the American Cancer Society) but if you have a strong family history of colon cancer, or a history of any form of cancer, your HCP may request that you start screening earlier. And from that point, as long as the original colonoscopy is clear, you can follow up and repeat the test every 10 years.
How do I prep?
The day before the exam, you are asked to be on a clear liquid diet; you can drink coffee or tea, but you cannot add milk, and no solid foods! Also, your HCP might ask you to change your medications. If you are on any blood thinners (aspirin, coumadin, plavix, etc) you will be asked to stop a few days to a week before the procedure, and also asked not to take ibuprofen for a few days before to decrease the risk of bleeding. Other medications that might be altered are your amounts of insulin (if you are a diabetic)because you cannot eat form midnight the night before the procedure, or any blood pressure medications, as your blood pressure may become low with the medications given to sedate you. All that being said, the bummer is that you are usually required to drink a bunch of liquid called “Go Lytely” or Magnesium Citrate (AKA the sparkling laxative- which makes me giggle every time I see it!) until when you poop, it is all clear…not the best day of your life, I’ll be completely honest with you.
What happens when I get to the hospital/clinic?
You will be registered, you vital signs will be checked, and most often you will have an IV (intravenous line) placed. You will be asked to remove all clothing and put on a hospital gown, and lay down in a stretcher, which you will stay on for the whole exam. You should meet with your HCP and an Anesthesiologist before your procedure, and your anesthesiologist will give you medications to relax you before you go into the procedure and most likely you won’t even remember going in to the procedure, coming out, or getting home until you are there! The medications have amnesic effects, so you will talk and seem awake, but you won’t remember any of it, and you won’t feel a thing. And the best part? After the 20 minute procedure, you are free and clear to go back and eat whatever you want, and once your designated person drive you home, you get a day to chill out, relax, and recover! So really not a bad day at all…..
Are there risks?
As with any procedure, there are certain risks, but your HCP will do everything to minimize it that they can. Some of the risks are: a reaction to the sedative medication, some small amounts of bleeding from any biopsies taken, and finally a tear or small perforation of the colon from the scope. These complications are very rare, and it is a very safe screening procedure.
So, I know the procedure itself and the prep doesn’t sound like a total blast, and I hear you, but as far as a cancer screening goes, it’s a pretty good deal, right? A day off of work to recover, and no memory of anything uncomfortable or bad…it could be worse! So talk to your HCP about when you should get screened, and be sure that you follow-up and continue your primary and preventative care. But remember, a colonoscopy is nothing to be afraid of!!
Yours in Good Health