Colonoscopies: A Necessary Pain in the Butt - Health Week


By Mark Falanga

If there were a low risk medical procedure that could potentially save your life, would you do it? The question seems almost too easy. Yet, each year thousands of Americans, who are good candidates for colonoscopies, don’t get one. The New York Times reported that the top reason these people do not opt for the test is simply fear. This trepidation stems from anxiety about preparing for the test alongside fear of what the actual results might be.

“Most people who don’t have a colonoscopy are scared, or just don’t want to be inconvenienced,” says Dr. Robert Malcolm III M.D., who has a medical practice in East Stroudsburg, PA. “Aside from the preparation for the test, typically, that person must miss at least a day of work, which can add to their stress.”

Photo by Tips Times.

Before talking about the tests, we need to discuss colorectal cancer, which is what the colonoscopy tries to prevent. According to WebMD, colorectal cancer occurs when cells that line the colon or rectum start to grow abnormally. These growths in your intestines are called polyps. Over time, the cells become tumors, which can become cancerous if left untreated. Dr. Malcolm outlines six high risk factors for this disease: 1.) Age greater than 50, 2.) Family history of polyps, 3.) Obesity, 4.) High red meat, low fiber diet, 5.) History of Ulcerative Colitis, 6.) High fat diet.

The CDC reports that, in both American men and women, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer, and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths as well. Symptoms for the disease, according to the Mayo Clinic, include change in your bowel habits – diarrhea or constipation or the change in consistency of your stool, rectal bleeding or blood in your stool, persistent abdominal discomfort such as gas or cramps, a feeling that you bowel doesn’t empty completely, weakness or fatigue, and unexplained weight loss.

So for a disease this dangerous and prevalent, it would seem that it’s an extremely easy decision to have a colonoscopy. Well, as the old saying goes, easier said than done.

I took it upon myself to have this test, given my family’s history of polyps. My mother was 32 when she had a polyp, so at age 30, I felt I was ready. I scheduled my appointment with Dr. Malcolm and received all of the information I needed for my preparation (prep for short). I was relieved to find out that I only needed to stay on an all-liquid diet the day before my procedure. I was also told to avoid vegetables and anything containing seeds two days before. It didn’t seem so bad at first, contrary to what a quick Google search will tell you.

The day finally came. I woke up and had a glass of apple juice and some lime Jell-O; a typical snack before I head into work. But what I failed to recognize was that, after I get off the bus in New York, I typically get something to eat at the Port Authority, or I stop in to one of the seven Starbuckses on the way to the office. Also, at our weekly meetings we usually have snacks and order food out for lunch. The hunger pangs were definitely starting to get to me and didn’t really stop until I got home and heated up some chicken broth. The protein definitely helped fill me up.

Next came what most people call the hardest part: emptying your colon with laxatives. I’ll spare you the details and just say that I definitely understand why the previous Google search brings up so many websites. I couldn’t wait for the morning to come so I could get it over with.

The next morning, I was the first patient at the surgery center, and my anxiety got the best of me. I’ve never been a fan of getting “knocked out” by medicine for surgery, but the nurses did a great job of calming me down and slowly administering the medicine. Gradually I fell asleep (thank you Lauren, Beth, Susan and any other nurses that helped me out that day!)

Before I knew it, it was all over and Dr. Malcolm said the procedure went fine and I had no polyps. Despite my previous feelings about a colonoscopy, I can safely say that, preparation aside; this was definitely a positive experience, and a decision I won’t regret. So if you think you’re at risk for colorectal cancer, but have always been afraid to undergo the procedure, take it from someone who was once in your shoes, it’s not as bad as you think.

Ok, now excuse me, I need to eat something!