Your Colonoscopy: 7 Common Myths Debunked

Colonoscopy is a screening that involves examining the lower bowel and rectum for abnormalities. It’s one of the most commonly used screenings for colon cancer. The test detects colon cancer at its earliest stages and even pinpoints abnormal changes that have the potential to develop into cancer down the line. While it’s no doubt that colonoscopy saves lives, misinformation causes patients to put off having this vital screening.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and the gastroenterologists here at Illinois Gastroenterology Associates want to dispel common myths surrounding this important screening tool. Roughly 1 in 23 men and 1 in 25 women will develop colon cancer in their lifetime.

Many patients experience unnecessary anxiety and dread surrounding their colonoscopy, but preparing for and undergoing the test is much easier than you may think. Here we debunk seven of the most common colonoscopy myths.

Myth #1: Having a colonoscopy is embarrassing

The idea of your doctor inserting a camera up your backside and examining your colon and anus may cause anxiety, but there’s no need to feel embarrassed. Before you have a colonoscopy you must thoroughly clean out the colon by drinking a special solution. This removes stool residue from the colon so that the doctor can get a good look at the lower bowel and anus. When the colon is cleaned out it looks no different than the inside of the mouth. 

Most patients are given a mild sedative that causes relaxation. It’s common to fall asleep just before the exam. Most patients do not remember the exam, and it’s over before you know it. The entire screening test takes about 30 minutes.

Myth #2: Preparation for a colonoscopy is dreadful

When it comes to colonoscopy, the preparation is often as dreaded as the procedure itself, and sometimes even more so. Proper bowel preparation is crucial. Any food or residue left in the colon can prevent your doctor from seeing polyps, growths or other abnormalities.

It’s important to follow the colonoscopy prep as directed. This involves drinking a medication that causes the bowel to empty. It should ease your anxiety to know that there are several preparations to choose from. These preparations are typically well-tolerated, and we work with patients to choose the type, flavor, and volume that works best for them.

Instead of drinking a gallon of prep solutions, patient may choose half-gallon and split-dose options.   

Myth #3: The colonoscopy procedure is painful

Having a tube inserted into your colon may sound painful. However, the colonoscope is a thin, flexible instrument. While there may be a feeling of pressure, patients remain comfortable during the colonoscopy. In fact, most patients are adequately sedated through conscious sedation, or twilight sleep. This allows patients to be sedated without complete loss of consciousness and is why most patients don’t remember the exam.

Myth 4: Colonoscopies are just for screening

Colonoscopy is more than a screening. It’s an all-in-one tool that enables the doctor to not only detect polyps and small cancerous growths but also remove them during the procedure. If the colonoscopy reveals a polyp or small abnormal growth, the doctor removes it immediately. This prevents it from becoming cancerous.

Myth #5: A colonoscopy is only necessary if you have symptoms

Cancer is often a silent disease that causes no symptoms until it has advanced significantly. Almost all colon cancers start out as precancerous growths. A colonoscopy detects abnormal growths before they become cancerous. This enables our doctors to remove polyps before they have a chance to cause cancer.

Myth 6#: If a colonoscopy reveals a polyp, it means I have colon cancer

Polyps are noncancerous growths that can develop in various parts of the body, including the colon. Having a polyp doesn’t mean that you have cancer or that you will develop cancer. However, because polyps can sometimes go on to become cancer, our doctors remove them to reduce your risk. Polyps are easily removed during your colonoscopy.

Myth #7: I don’t need a colonoscopy if I’m not at risk for colon cancer

Certain factors, such as family history, a low-fiber diet, and a sedentary lifestyle, raises the risk for colon cancer. However, everyone is at risk for colon cancer. Because colon polyps are very common as you age, adults above age 50 need to have a colonoscopy. If you have risk factors, then we recommend testing earlier.  

Colonoscopies help prevent deaths from colon cancer. To learn more, call us at Illinois Gastroenterology Group to schedule a visit. We have offices in Elk Grove and Arlington Heights, Illinois. 

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