By Patricia Hollenback, R.N., BSN, OCN
Colonoscopies are an essential screening tool in the fight against colorectal cancer. However, some people would rather skip it due to the fear that it may be painful or embarrassing. If you find yourself avoiding this life-saving procedure for this very reason, here’s why you shouldn’t worry about pain or embarrassment.
The Prep Work You Have To Do Isn’t That Bad
Some people fear the colonoscopy prep more than the actual procedure. But the preparation isn’t what it was years ago. You still have to drink a solution that helps clean out the colon, but how much you drink has changed.
In the past, you had to drink 18 eight-ounce glasses of the solution, which is a combination of a laxative and electrolytes. Not only was that a lot of liquid to drink, but it has an unappealing taste too.
Now, most patients drink smaller amounts of the liquid, or consume a couple of packets of powder mixed with some water. You may also be splitting the dosage of the laxative solution or pills between the day before and the morning of your procedure, instead of going through the whole cleansing process at one time. This method is much easier to tolerate and does a better job of cleansing the colon, so it’s a win-win!
The Procedure Isn’t Painful
Most people don’t experience any pain during a colonoscopy. In fact, some people claim that they got their best sleep during a colonoscopy. Before your procedure begins, you’re given a sedative to make you sleep so you don’t feel anything. Many people also claim to not remember the procedure at all due to the sedative.
During the procedure, air is pumped into the colon to keep it open to allow doctors to get the best pictures. The air pressure may cause some discomfort or cramping in your lower abdomen after the procedure – once the air leaves your colon, this discomfort goes away.
You Won’t Have To Do It Again For a While
Unless you have symptoms at an earlier age or have a history of polyps or colorectal cancer in your family, you don’t have to have your first colonoscopy until you are 50. If during your first colonoscopy, doctors don’t find any polyps or cancer and you don’t have risk factors for colon cancer, you won’t have to have another colonoscopy for another 10 years.
If doctors do find one or two small, low-risk polyps, you still don’t have to go through it again for five to 10 years.
It Could Save Your Life!
Colonoscopies are the most accurate test for colorectal cancer, they have proven to detect cancer early and they save lives. When colorectal cancer is found early, it’s small and easier to treat.
During a colonoscopy, doctors look for cancer, polyps or other types of abnormal tissue that can be removed through a scope. Removing polyps can prevent colorectal cancer, which is why colonoscopies are so important – colorectal cancer typically doesn’t have any warning symptoms and by the time these symptoms appear, tumors tend to be bigger and harder to treat.
About the Author
Patricia Hollenback, R.N., BSN, OCN
Patti is a champion for cancer prevention and early detection. As a nurse navigator, her primary goal is to create an open and trusting relationship with her patients in order to guide them through the medical maze of testing, treatment and recovery.