It’s time to talk about that uncomfortable, but necessary procedure we all know—the colonoscopy. Colonoscopies, though they had a bad reputation, are one of the most important procedures a person can have done. Approximately 50,000 people will die per year, due to colorectal cancer. Being the 2nd leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, it is a silent killer that is not to be underestimated. However, that risk can be greatly diminished by getting a routine colonoscopy, starting around age 50. With new medical advances, techniques, and technology being used more frequently, this procedure is now easier and quicker than ever.
A colonoscopy is a procedure, usually performed by a gastroenterologist, which allows doctors to be able to examine a patient’s colon for any possible cancerous polyps, lesions, or tears. It is helpful in identifying different GI diseases, such as diverticulosis, Crohn’s Disease, and irritable bowel disease. A thin, lengthy tube with a small video camera at the tip, called a colonoscope, is inserted into the colon and small intestine to look for signs of abnormal growth. A small biopsy of tissue is sometimes taken for testing as well. The procedure takes as little as 30 minutes and the patient is given light sedation to make the experience quick and painless. Some centers even offer virtual colonoscopies, which use medical imaging and x-rays to create 3-D images of a patient’s entire lower digestive tract.
After scheduling your colonoscopy, it is important to prepare your body for this procedure. Your colon needs to be completely clean in order to ensure a clear passage way for the colonoscope. Any waste left behind can make the examination for polyp types difficult and dangerous. Therefore, there are a few simple ways to get yourself ready in the 24 hours before your exam:
•Steer clear of any colored liquids – doctors recommend following a clear liquid diet the day before your procedure. Some suggested fluids include water, clear gelatin (such as Jell-O), and fat-free broths. This will help maintain your body’s hydration, supply necessary electrolytes and minerals, and keep your energy up while you are unable to dine normally.
•Utilize cleansing products – it is extremely important to completely empty your bowels before your procedure. Your doctor will most likely supply you with a gallon of cleansing solution to ingest the day before your surgery. This is usually split into two doses and consumed the night before your procedure, and the morning of (approximately 6 hours before). Following your physician’s instructions precisely is extremely important. The cleansing process can sometimes be uncomfortable, but this task is critical for a successful colonoscopy.
•Adjust your medications – make sure to let your physician know what medications you take regularly, as you may need to adjust dosages a week or so before your procedure. Any sort of aspirin or blood-thinning medication may create a potentially dangerous during the procedure, as a small abrasion could cause blood loss.
While a colonoscopy is a safe and routine procedure, there are some common side effects that should be noted, to ease any worry a patient might have. There can be some abdominal cramping and swelling after your exam, due to the air used to inflate the colon during examination. This air usually dissipates or is expelled within the same day of the procedure. Some patients might also find small traces of blood in their bowel movements after a colonoscopy, if a sample of tissue was taken for biopsy. This may last a few days, but is generally not a threat. With experienced, highly trained colonoscope operators guiding the procedure, it has never been safer to have a colonoscopy.
While it’s not the most enticing subject matter, the truth is, colon cancer wreaks havoc by living in the shadows of conversation. It is important to educate yourself and your loved ones on the options for prevention. Colon cancer is an aggressive villain, but you have the power to reduce your risk by simply committing to getting a colonoscopy every 5 to 10 years in your middle ages. With treatment research at its peak and new technology being created every year, we are one step closer to closing the door on cancer!