The Lowdown on Colonoscopies: 5 Things to Consider
When you think of a colonoscopy, you may not think of it as something to look forward to getting. In fact, most people dread or avoid having one altogether.
But, colonoscopies are actually quite tolerable – here’s why.
1. The preparation process isn’t that bad
For many people, preparing for a colonoscopy is the worst part of the procedure and the part they dread.
“The preparation itself is really not bad. It’s four 8-ounce glasses of liquid,” said Dr. Steven Fassler, the director of colorectal surgery and medical director of the Jefferson Health - Abington endoscopy center.
Dr. Fassler recommends a prep which includes two cups of liquid as the first dose and another two cups for the second dose. Please note physicians may have different preferences for their patients’ prep.
“It’s really not much,” he said.
While he did say the problem with preparation is that you’ll have to go to the bathroom, it means you’re cleaning out your colon to give your doctor the best view possible.
2. You’ll get a great nap…and a day off of work
In order to perform a colonoscopy, your doctor will give you a sedative, which Dr. Fassler said is most commonly Propofol – an IV anesthetic that causes sleepiness and relaxation before and during the procedure.
“It’s a very pleasant sedation. You fall asleep and wake up feeling like you’ve slept eight hours,” Dr. Fassler said. During a colonoscopy, you’re breathing on your own, but you don’t feel a thing and don’t remember anything from the procedure.
While you don’t have to stay overnight in the hospital, it will take about an hour to begin to recover from the sedative after the procedure. It can take up to a day for the full effects of the sedative to wear off, so you won’t be driving or returning to work for the rest of the day after your colonoscopy.
3. You get 10 years of peace of mind
You don’t have to get your first colonoscopy until you’re 45 years old and then you won’t have to have the procedure done again for a while.
“It’s 8 to 10 years until you have to have another one – that means you get 10 years of peace of mind,” he said, meaning that you don’t have to think about your next colonoscopy for 10 years, provided everything looks good and you don’t have a strong family history of colorectal cancer. In these cases, your next colonoscopy could be sooner.
4. It can prevent cancer
During a colonoscopy, your doctor will look for polyps, which are a small clump of cells on the lining of the colon. Over time, some polyps can turn into cancer.
“Ninety-five percent of cancers start as polyps,” Dr. Fassler said. “If we find a polyp and take it out, we prevent cancer.”
5. They’re diagnostic and therapeutic
“[Colonoscopies] are the only preventative test we do in medicine,” he said. “If we see a polyp, we take it out and eliminate that chance that it can turn into cancer.”
Colonoscopies can also be used to diagnose colorectal cancer.
“[With a colonoscopy,] doctors identify things that can be removed at earlier stages,” Dr. Fassler said. Colonoscopies can find colorectal cancer in its earliest stages when there are no symptoms – there typically aren’t any symptoms of colorectal cancer until it’s progressed into later stages. And even if colon cancer is detected, if it’s found early, it’s curative with surgery.