When most of us turn 50, we think about throwing a party, buying a sporty new car, or taking an exotic vacation. However, once you hit 50, scheduling a colonoscopy also should be top of mind.
Ami Behara, M.D., a gastroenterologist with the Northwest Community Healthcare Medical Group, is passionate about the value of colonoscopies.
How do colonoscopies save lives?
Colonoscopies save lives because the procedure has the ability to detect polyps. Polyps are small, fleshy outgrowths in the wall of the colon that can turn into colon cancer over time. By removing the polyp, it never will have the potential to turn into cancer.
Are colonoscopies really that valuable as a screening tool?
According to the American College of Gastroenterology, a colonoscopy with polypectomy (removal of polyps) reduces the risk of colon cancer by 90 percent. More than 50,000 people are expected to die of colorectal cancer this year. And, a screening colonoscopy could save more than half of those lives. That’s valuable.
Why is the prep uncomfortable? Has it improved in the past 20-30 years?
Most people find the prep difficult because of the taste of the solution. However, there have been some recent improvements. We use a prep that requires two 8-ounce bottles of solution, plus water. So the volume is less. And, you don’t have to drink the liquid all at once. This improves the cleansing of the colon.
How do you respond when your patients complain about the prep?
I ask them to put it in perspective. With no risk factors for colon cancer, you only have to drink the prep for one night every 10 years. Most people agree it is worth putting up with the taste if it means saving your life!
Any quick tips for making the prep more tolerable?
Yes – chill it, use a straw so you don’t taste it, and drink it slow!
How long does an actual colonoscopy last?
The procedure lasts 30-45 minutes on average, depending on the findings and the patient's anatomy. It can take longer if there are multiple polyps to be removed.
What are the risks associated with a colonoscopy?
The risks are rare, but include those related to sedation (using a drug to put a patient to sleep), bleeding, perforation (a small tear in the lining of the GI tract) and missed lesions (due to winding of the colon and retained stool). Less than one percent of patients experience any bleeding or perforation during a colonoscopy.
Do people usually have symptoms when something is amiss with their colon?
For early cancer and specifically cancers on the right side of the colon, most patients do not have any symptoms. When detected at an early stage, colon cancer has a much better prognosis. That’s why it’s so important to have a colonoscopy.
I consider it a privilege to perform a procedure that may prevent cancer in a person – or, at the very least – catch it early. Colon cancer is the second deadliest cancer among men and women in the United States. Why take chances?
Learn about the NCH Digestive Disorders Center