If there's a history of colorectal cancer in your family, or you have been diagnosed with polyps before, having a colonoscopy is essential. But generally, once you reach midlife, your risk of developing colorectal cancer increases, calling for regular screening. The American Cancer Society recommends people start cancer screening at 45. This should carry on every ten years until about age 75. However, if polyps are found during the screening, you may require a colonoscopy every five years or two years if your risk is higher.
What is a Colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is an exam done to detect abnormalities in the rectum and colon. Usually, it involves inserting a long, flexible tube inside the rectum and colon through the anal opening. The scope (tube) travels the entire length of the large intestine, examining the linings. This is made possible by a camera attached to the tip of the tube that sends images to a monitor, letting the doctor spot any abnormal tissues such as polyps.
If the doctor discovers polyps (abnormal growths), they remove them and take tissue samples for biopsy. While polyps are not always cancerous, examining them is necessary since they result from abnormal cell growth, meaning they may potentially become malignant.
Generally, a colonoscopy is done for several reasons, including; screening for cancer, investigating symptoms such as chronic abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, and other chronic intestinal discomforts. As earlier mentioned, if you have a family history of colon cancer or are aged 45 and above, you require a colonoscopy even without any triggering symptoms.
Contrary to popular belief, colonoscopy is not as bad as stories make it sound. Below are five reasons why you shouldn't shy away from the procedure.
1. It Can Prevent Colorectal Cancer
Colonoscopy can stop cancer cold. According to the American Cancer Society, the 2021 colon and rectal cancer estimates in the United States stand at 104,270 and 45,230, respectively. By getting screened, you can avoid becoming a statistic.
So far, colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the U.S. But removing the adenomas (polyps) can reduce the risk of death by 53%.
2. The Preps Aren't So Bad
Perhaps, prep is the most dreaded part of the colonoscopy process. However, it's not as bad as you might have initially believed. While traditional prep procedures involved taking copious amounts of poor-tasting cleansing liquids, modern improvements have alleviated the unpleasantness of the process. Now, there are better-tasting cleansing agents that can be split into a two-dose – for the eve and the morning of the procedure. Moreover, FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved a tablet (SUTAB) that you can also take as a split dose.
The importance of cleansing is that it helps the doctor have a clear view of the rectum and colon linings to spot any abnormal tissue growth. If the cleansing is not thorough, hindering clear observation, the doctor may require a repeat procedure later.
For effective cleansing, you should adjust your diet a few days earlier to a low-fiber diet, consumed in small portions. These could include smoothies, rice, soups, pasta, steamed vegetables, etc. On the other hand, ensure you cut out red meat, fried foods, raw vegetables, and any colored foods.
As you will be spending lots of time in the bathroom after taking the cleansing agents, ensure you pack up soft toilet paper and medicated wet wipes to avoid excessive irritation. But don't forget to arm yourself with recommended creams and oils in case irritation occurs.
It may also help to prepare your body weeks before the procedure by adopting a healthy lifestyle, as being in robust health will help you manage the hours before the procedure. Generally, you will need to get off solid foods the day before the screening and take on clear liquids. Then after midnight, you aren't supposed to eat anything to allow the intestines to clear.
3. Insurance Covers the Cost
A colonoscopy can cost you thousands of dollars. However, you don't have to postpone the screening if the cost is too much for you. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires coverage for colorectal cancer screening by private insurers and Medicare, with no out-of-pocket costs (co-pays or deductibles). However, if you have a 'grandfathered plan' (i.e., existed before passing of ACA in 2010), ensure you talk with your insurance provider about the specifics of the coverage.
The insurance should cover the initial screening and subsequent processes such as removing polyps. This is with the exception of Medicare which charges a 20% co-insurance for additional procedures after the screening.
4. They Aren't Painful
If the fear of pain makes you dread going for a colonoscopy, you need not worry. The procedure is not painful. The tube (scope) is usually flexible and is only a finger-width. Besides, you're sedated, so you don't feel anything. The sedative is also taken alongside pain medication to minimize discomfort.
5. It Rejuvenates Your Body
Getting your colon cleansed eliminates toxins and buildup. If you had been having constipation issues, causing you to become sluggish, a colonoscopy might leave you feeling more refreshed and energized. Besides, taking time off your busy schedule to cleanse and get screened is a good slow-down that affords you some much-needed rest.
Again, by getting screened, you become more confident knowing how your digestive health is fairing. And if there are any conditions present – polyps or gastrointestinal issues – you can receive appropriate treatment.
How Long Does a Colonoscopy Take?
Other than the day-long colonoscopy prep, the actual procedure doesn't take long. Once on the examination table, it should take about 30 minutes to get screened. But if polyps are detected, removing them might take a little longer. The sedative clears in about an hour after the procedure, and you're free to leave. But you shouldn't drive. Instead, have someone take you home.
Contact Digestive Health Partners In Asheville, NC or one of our many other locations
Colonoscopies are life savers. The statistics of colorectal cancer are worrying, but with regular screening, you can live in confidence knowing your gut is in check. Despite the popular beliefs and horrifying stories about the procedure, colonoscopy isn't so bad. If you're a high-risk individual – are 45 and above, have a personal history of polyps or family history of colorectal cancer, have chronic gastrointestinal conditions such as IBS – book an appointment at Digestive Health Partners to schedule your screening. We are conventialy located in several different locations all over North Carolina.