“It’ll be painful.”
“I don’t have the time.”
“I can’t find my keys.”
“My favorite TV show is on.”
We all try to come up with reasons to avoid medical appointments, and when it comes to a colonoscopy, fear of the procedure itself might make your reasons get a little less, well, reasonable.
But colonoscopies are very important for your colon, digestive system, and general health — so skipping them is probably not in your best interest.
First of All: What Is a Colonoscopy — and Why Is It Important?
A colonoscopy is a procedure that allows your provider to see inside your large intestine — the part of your digestive system that helps make and store stool. Without a normal-functioning large intestine, your food may not be able to be digested as it should, causing pain, blockages, and inflammation.
You may require a colonoscopy if you’re experiencing symptoms such as:
- Changes in your bowel activity
- Pain in your abdomen
- Unexplained weight loss
The purpose of a colonoscopy is to figure out what’s causing those symptoms, including:
- Irritated and swollen tissue
- Ulcers (sores on the lining of the intestine)
- Polyps (small clumps of cells that may form in the lining of your colon or rectum)
Sometimes, a colonoscopy can point to signs of cancer. This kind of cancer is often referred to as colorectal cancer because it includes two similar and connected parts of your body — your colon and your rectum.
However, you don’t need to be experiencing symptoms to undergo a colonoscopy. In fact, colonoscopies can detect cancer before symptoms become noticeable. They also allow your provider to remove polyps before they have the chance to become cancerous.
How It Works
During the procedure, your provider will insert a thin, flexible tube (called a colonoscope) into your rectum. This tube has a small camera attached to it, which allows them to get a clear view of the inside of your colon. If necessary, polyps and tissue samples can also be removed using the colonoscope.
- Colorectal cancer is the 3rd leading cause of cancer-related deaths in US adults.
- Colorectal cancer is expected to cause over 51,000 deaths in 2019.
- 1 in 22 men and 1 in 24 women will develop colorectal cancer in their lifetime.
- The death rate for colorectal cancer has been dropping for several decades — largely due to screening and better treatment.
- There are now more than 1 million colorectal cancer survivors in the US.
5 Fast Facts About Colorectal Cancer
Screening is key to keeping your colon healthy. It often allows your providers to catch signs of diseases such as cancer in the earliest stages when they’re easiest to treat.
In general, people with an average risk of colon cancer should begin undergoing colorectal cancer screening stage.
However, if you don’t get a colonoscopy, your risk of not finding problems until they are more advanced — and more difficult to treat — increases.
With that in mind, here is the truth behind 4 excuses people make to skip their colonoscopy.
1. “Colonoscopies are too painful.”
Your provider doesn’t want you to experience pain any more than you do. That’s why you’ll be given a sedative, anesthesia, or pain medicine so you won’t feel pain during the procedure. You’ll have a care team that will keep you as comfortable as possible and will check your vital signs, such as your pulse, throughout the procedure.
The entire procedure takes less than an hour. Because it’s an outpatient procedure, you’ll be able to go home the same day. You might feel some cramping, bloating, or discomfort in your abdomen during the first hour afterward — especially if polyps were removed during the procedure — but that should be light and go away quickly. You’ll back to your old self within a day or so — knowing that your colon has been taken care of.
2. “The prep for a colonoscopy is too much for me.”
To allow your provider to see inside your colon, it needs to be cleaned out. That means going to the bathroom. A lot. The downside is that the prep is necessary — and the solution used to clear your bowels might not taste good — but the upside is that you have a lot of options to make it more bearable.
You may need to follow a clear liquid diet for 1 to 3 days, and you’ll have to take some combination of laxatives — which you may be able to choose yourself. This can take the form of pills, powders that you dissolve in water, or a liquid laxative you drink over a period of time. You can make this a little easier by splitting the liquid between the night before and the morning of the procedure.
It might be a little challenging for a day or two, but that’s nothing compared to what you’ll have to deal with if you let a health issue go undetected. You may end up with more pain and more complications — some that could be life-threatening if they go on too long. In the end, a night spent close to the bathroom is worth it.
3. “I’m not at risk for colon cancer.”
You might think you’re too young, or even too healthy, to benefit from a colonoscopy. However, many people are at risk without even knowing it. If you’re unaware of your risk, it doesn’t make your chances of developing ulcers, polyps, or cancer any lower. In fact, without screening, you’re more likely to allow those to problems to worsen, and they can become much more difficult to treat later on.
In general, in addition to age (typically 50 years or older), you may be at higher risk for colorectal cancer if you:
- Are male
- Are African American
- Have a family history of polyps or colorectal cancer
- Have inflammatory bowel disease
- Have Lynch syndrome or another genetic disorder that increases your risk of colorectal cancer
- Have other lifestyle-related risks factors, such as smoking or being overweight
If you have any of these risk factors, your provider may recommend that you begin undergoing colonoscopies before age 45.
4. “It’s too dangerous to have a colonoscopy.”
Most medical procedures come with risks, but severe complications from a colonoscopy are very rare. Roughly 4 to 8 serious complications have occurred in every 10,000 procedures.
One of the most common complications during a colonoscopy is bleeding — usually in patients who have polyps removed during the procedure. However, your provider can treat bleeding that happens during the colonoscopy right away while you’re still under sedation.
No More Excuses: Keep an Eye on Your Colon Health
Consider the risks you run without having a colonoscopy: pain, digestive issues, ulcers, and untreated polyps that could turn into cancer. While you may have to deal with some discomfort for a short period of time, by getting a colonoscopy, you’re allowing your provider to detect concerns as early as possible — which allows you to get treated earlier. This saves you from a great amount of discomfort down the line — and it can even save your life.