It is easy to be passionate about colon and rectal cancer prevention with colonoscopy.
For more than 20 years, we’ve known that removing polyps during colonoscopy reduces the incidence of colorectal cancer. In 2012, long-term follow-up data from the largest polyp registry came out in The New England Journal of Medicine demonstrating a reduction of more than 50 percent in deaths from colorectal cancer in patients who had polyps removed during colonoscopy.
Colonoscopy not only prevents cancer, it also saves lives. Given that cancer of the colon and rectum is the third most common cancer among men and women in the United States, the impact of regular screening with colonoscopy on the overall health of our country is huge.
Even though the data clearly support colonoscopy for colorectal cancer screening, some patients are still reluctant to have the test. Some reasons my patients tell me they aren’t willing to have a colonoscopy:
■ I can’t stand the prep.
■ I’m afraid it will hurt.
■ I had one before and I was awake the whole time.
■ It’s too expensive.
■ I can’t take time off from work or family.
There’s good news for anyone facing the prep — there are several different clean-out options for colonoscopy now. Many don’t require drinking a whole gallon of liquid.
While a patient may stay “awake” for the procedure, the medications given are used for their qualities of relieving pain, calming nerves and helping patients not remember the procedure.
Additionally, most insurance companies cover screening colonoscopy. Their goal is to prevent people from having very expensive cancer care, so it is in the insurers’ best interest to offer this coverage. If you do not have insurance, many hospitals have programs to work out a payment plan for the test.
The procedure takes on average 30 minutes to perform, and patients can go back to their usual activities the next day. Patients can even eat whatever they choose shortly after the exam. Most centers performing the test have very flexible appointments to meet the needs of patients’ busy schedules.
If you still have concerns about getting a colonoscopy, please talk to your health care provider. There are many options when it comes to preparation, where the test is performed and which types of medications are used. Odds are that there is a convenient option available to keep your colon healthy and cancer-free.
Dr. Jennifer D. Rea, Colorectal Surgical and Gastroenterology