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Next year. In a few weeks. When my spouse bribes me. If you're like many Americans, these excuses may pop into your head when your doctor asks you about making a colonoscopy appointment. But this lifesaving exam isn't as bad as you think. Read on to find out why it's not worth all the worrying.
If you cringe at the thought of even scheduling a colonoscopy, chances are it's the "prep" portion that has you feeling squeamish.
"The No. 1 concern I hear from patients is about what getting ready for the exam entails," says Glen Hooker, MD, a colon and rectal surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor All Saints Medical Center at Fort Worth.
Typically, preparation includes a day of fasting and one or two hours spent drinking a laxative that can cause some cramping and diarrhea.
While diarrhea may not be particularly pleasant, Dr. Hooker says to keep in mind that it's all relative.
"We're trying to prevent cancer with this exam," he says. "One day of diarrhea is well worth possibly preventing cancer or catching cancer at an early stage. Many people do the cleansing the night before, so it doesn't even interrupt their day-to-day life."
The actual exam may sound invasive and uncomfortable, but there's really not much to fear, Dr. Hooker says.
During the test, your doctor will use a thin, flexible tube with a small video camera attached to look at the colon for any ulcers, polyps, tumors or areas of inflammation and bleeding. During a colonoscopy, tissue samples can also be collected and abnormal growths removed.
Thanks to sedation, though, most patients are blissfully unaware of everything going on, making the colonoscopy a pretty easy exam. Plus, it's an outpatient procedure, so no major downtime other than the day of the procedure is required.
"The other thing that patients fear the most is the idea that we might actually find something," Dr. Hooker says.
But that fear should really just be more motivation to get the screening in the first place, he says.
"If precancerous polyps are found, they can be removed to prevent cancer from forming. If cancer is found in its early stages, it can usually be treated with minimally invasive surgery, with excellent survival rates. Colorectal cancer is actually thought of as a curable disease now," Dr. Hooker says.
Even the worst-case scenario isn't as scary as you might think. "Deaths from colon cancer have become less common in the past 15 years," he adds. "There is increased awareness of colorectal cancer, and colonoscopy is doing a good job of what it's supposed to do."
To learn more about colonoscopy and additional screening recommendations, or to find a physician, visit BaylorHealth.com/AllSaints or call 1.800.4BAYLOR.
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