Colonoscopy Myths vs. Facts

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Because symptoms tend not to appear until advanced stages, early detection of colon cancer is key to survival. Colonoscopy is the screening procedure used to detect colon and rectal cancers. And, although they get a bad rap, colonoscopies aren’t as terrible as you might think.

Colorectal surgeon Ian White, MD, of Overlake Clinics Colon & Rectal Clinic debunks five common myths about getting a colonoscopy.

Myth: I don’t have symptoms (or family history), so I don’t need to do it.

Fact: There is about a 4–5% lifetime risk of developing colon cancer in the general population with no family history, and most early colorectal cancers do not present with any symptoms at all. This is why screening is so important! By removing any abnormal tissue that has the potential to become colon cancers (i.e., polyps), we reduce your overall risk dramatically.

Myth: I’ve already done a home test; I don’t need to undergo a colonoscopy.

Fact: Unfortunately, the home tests do not have a great detection rate for polyps (or adenomas) that are considered advanced ones, which tend to be higher risk. They are sensitive for letting us know when you may already have colon cancer, but they are not a great prevention tool. If you are unable to undergo a colonoscopy due to other health conditions, it is more certainly a reasonable option but definitely not a first-line preventive measure.

Myth: The prep is terrible.

Fact: Colonoscopy bowel prep is designed to make you poop. A lot. However, newer bowel preparations are much smaller in volume and taste slightly better than their predecessors. Thus, current bowel preps are much better tolerated by patients in general.     

Myth: The procedure is too painful.

Fact: Colonoscopies are generally performed with a mild amount of anesthesia called “conscious sedation.” This degree of sedation makes the patient very sleepy without being paralyzed or needing a breathing tube. Additionally, the most common medication given will prevent patients from experiencing any pain during the procedure or remembering the procedure.

Myth: It’s too embarrassing.

Fact: Let me reassure you that everyone involved in your care are professionals who have been working with colonoscopy patients for a long time. Procedure rooms are discreet, and only essential staff are present during your procedure. Recovery after your procedure is also private in order to give you space to convalesce on your own.

Don’t delay your colonoscopy any longer. Schedule your appointment today.

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