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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 Juan Martinez, MD, gastroenterologist on the Baylor Irving medical staff.
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. Martinez 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 detecting and treating cancer. 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 fear, Dr. Martinez 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 also can be collected and abnormal growths removed.
Thanks to sedation, though, 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 is required.
"The other thing that patients fear the most is the idea that we might actually find something," Dr. Martinez 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, which leads to a 100 percent five-year survival rate. If cancer is found early, it can usually be treated with minimally invasive surgery, and the survival rate is 98 to 100 percent. Colorectal cancer is actually thought of as a curable disease now," Dr. Martinez says.
"Advanced colon cancer is decreasing. The at-risk population is growing, but incidence of cancer is decreasing. That means that colonoscopy does a good job of what it's supposed to do."
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