If you have ever had a friend, loved one or colleague go through colon cancer treatment, then you know how important screening is, and why it should be discussed more frequently.
Screening colonoscopy is the most effective procedure for detecting - and preventing - colon cancer. It is recommended by the American College of Gastroenterology, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy and the American Gastroenterological Association (aka. the experts) as the preferred colorectal cancer screening test. Colonoscopy is the gold standard and the only test that is recommended at 10-year intervals*.
The procedure itself isn't really a big deal at all. Here is how it works:
Prep: In order for the procedure to be completed successfully, the colon must be clear. To prepare, your physician will determine a clear liquid diet plan that is best for you. Liquids can include bouillon or broth, clear fruit juice, plain coffee or tea, regular or diet soda, and even Gatorade or Propel. In advance of the procedure, you will take the laxative/cleansing solution, along with drinking the clear liquids, to clear your colon. These days, there are quite a few preps that are much more tolerable than you may have heard; just make sure you stay close to the restroom.
Procedure: The procedure itself only takes about 30 minutes. You are sedated the whole time, often completely asleep. A thin, flexible tube in inserted into the rectum and guided through the colon. There is a small camera on the end of the tube, which allows the physician to see the inside of the colon, transmitted onto a monitor in the procedure room. Trained nurses are in the room as well. If a polyp is found during the exam, it is immediately removed and send to the lab for testing. Polyp removal is painless and is not felt during or after the exam.
After Colonoscopy: For most, colonoscopy is easy, rarely causes discomfort, and complications are very rare. Some patients feel the urge to expel air as a result of the insufflation (expanding the colon with air) of the colon, which is totally normal. Immediately following the procedure, your physician will discuss initial findings, answer any questions and provide post-procedure instructions. From there, you and your driver can go home, you can resume normal eating and rest for the remainder of the day. Tomorrow, all is back to normal!
*ASGE: Recommendations for physicians and patients from the US Multi-Society Task Force on Colorectal Cancer, July 2017