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The Dreaded Colonoscopy…and It’s Importance in Preventing Colorectal Cancer

So you are approaching the big Five-O and now your doctor is recommending the dreadful colonoscopy you’ve heard so much about from older friends…. Nobody looks forward to this procedure, particularly the preparation the day before the appointment, but it’s very important to get this scheduled when your healthcare provider suggests doing so, which usually happens when you turn forty-five or fifty, or earlier if there is a family history of colorectal cancer. Before I dive into colorectal cancer and all the reasons to have a colonoscopy, I want to share a friend’s personal experience with you.

My personal trainer, who I worked out with for over 15 years, had turned fifty and procrastinated scheduling a colonoscopy. He said that he didn’t want anyone “up his butt”. A few years later, he discovered a raised area on his back. He pressed on the lump which ruptured inside causing sepsis and sending him to the emergency room where they discovered he had colorectal cancer. He went through chemotherapy and several surgeries but eventually succumbed to cancer at the age of 55, after years of fighting the disease. Had he gone in for a colonoscopy during the recommended time frame, the cancer may have been detected early enough to prevent it from spreading. I tell his story to others to create awareness about the significance of colonoscopies in safeguarding our health, particularly in preventing colorectal cancer.


Many people with colon cancer don't have symptoms at first. When symptoms appear, they'll likely depend on the cancer's size and where it is in the large intestine.

Symptoms of colon cancer can include:

·      A change in bowel habits, such as more frequent diarrhea or constipation

·      Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool

·      Ongoing discomfort in the belly area, such as cramps, gas or pain

·      A feeling that the bowel doesn't empty all the way during a bowel movement

·      Weakness or tiredness

·      Losing weight without trying


If you notice lasting symptoms that concern you, make an appointment with a health care professional.

Risks For Colorectal Cancer

Doctors aren't certain what causes most colon cancers but factors that may increase the risk of colon cancer include:


·      Older age

·      A personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps

·      Inflammatory bowel diseases

·      Inherited syndromes that increase colon cancer risk

·      Low-fiber, high-fat diet

·      Not exercising regularly

·      Diabetes

·      Obesity

·      Smoking

·      Drinking alcohol

·      Radiation therapy for cancer




Making changes in everyday life can reduce the risk of colon cancer. To lower the risk of colon cancer, consider the following lifestyle modifications:

Diet - Eat those veggies!: Consume a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods provide essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, which may contribute to cancer prevention. Opt for a broad spectrum of fruits and vegetables to ensure a diverse intake of nutrients.


Moderate Alcohol Consumption: If you choose to consume alcohol, do so in moderation or consider abstaining.


Smoking Cessation: Quit smoking to reduce the risk of colon cancer. Seek guidance from your healthcare team to explore effective strategies for quitting.


Regular Exercise: Engage in physical activity most days of the week, aiming for at least 30 minutes per day. If you've been inactive, start gradually and consult with a healthcare professional before beginning an exercise program.


Maintain a Healthy Weight: If you are at a healthy weight, work on maintaining it through a combination of a nutritious diet and regular exercise. If weight loss is necessary, consult your healthcare team for guidance on healthy approaches. Aim for gradual weight loss by adopting a calorie-conscious diet and incorporating more physical activity into your routine.

Incorporating these lifestyle changes, coupled with regular screening for those at risk, forms a proactive approach to colon cancer prevention. Consult with your healthcare team to tailor these recommendations to your individual health profile and make informed choices for a healthier future.


Preparing for The Colonoscopy

Understanding the Procedure: Before delving into preparation, it’s essential to understand what a colonoscopy entails. (It's really not as bad as you have heard...) During the procedure, the patient lies on their side while a gastroenterologist inserts a colonoscope through the rectum and into the colon. The colonoscope contains a light and a small camera that transmits images to a monitor, allowing the doctor to examine the colon’s lining for abnormalities such as polyps, inflammation, or cancerous growths.

Consultation with Your Doctor: The first step in preparing for a colonoscopy is consulting with your healthcare provider. They will provide detailed instructions tailored to your specific needs and medical history. It’s crucial to inform your doctor about any underlying health conditions, allergies, or medications you’re currently taking, as these factors may impact the preparation process.

Dietary Restrictions: The day before the colonoscopy, you will need to follow a special diet designed to cleanse the colon thoroughly. This typically involves avoiding solid foods and consuming only clear liquids such as broth, water, clear fruit juices, and gelatin. It’s important to refrain from consuming red or purple-colored liquids, as they can mimic bleeding during the procedure. Additionally, your doctor may recommend avoiding certain foods such as seeds, nuts, and high-fiber foods that could interfere with the colonoscopy.

Bowel Preparation: Here comes the not-so-fun part... The most critical aspect of preparing for a colonoscopy is bowel preparation, also known as bowel prep. This involves taking a prescribed laxative solution or tablets to empty the colon completely. Bowel prep typically begins the day before the procedure and involves drinking large quantities of the laxative solution. While the taste may not be pleasant, it’s essential to consume the entire prescribed amount to ensure effective bowel cleansing. Warning: After drinking the prep solution, you will be pooping often and for several hours so stay home during this process!

Hydration: In addition to following dietary restrictions and completing the bowel prep, it’s crucial to stay hydrated throughout the preparation process. Drinking clear liquids such as water, clear broths, and electrolyte solutions can help prevent dehydration and ensure that the bowel prep is successful. However, it’s important to avoid consuming liquids with red or purple dyes, as mentioned earlier.

Plan for Transportation: Since sedation is typically administered during a colonoscopy to ensure patient comfort, it’s essential to arrange for transportation to and from the medical facility. Most patients are advised not to drive or operate machinery for the remainder of the day following the procedure due to the lingering effects of sedation.

Follow-Up Care: After the colonoscopy, your doctor will discuss the findings with you and provide any necessary follow-up care instructions. Depending on the results, additional procedures or screenings may be recommended. It’s crucial to attend all follow-up appointments and adhere to any further recommendations provided by your healthcare provider.

Proper preparation is essential for a successful and accurate colonoscopy. By following your doctor’s instructions regarding dietary restrictions, bowel preparation, and hydration, you can ensure that the procedure is as effective as possible. Remember that while preparing for a colonoscopy may seem daunting, the potential benefits in detecting and preventing colorectal cancer far outweigh any temporary discomfort or inconvenience. Your proactive approach to screening could ultimately save your life.


The colonoscopy, which is typically managed under anesthesia, is a key component of preventive healthcare, offering early detection and intervention for a variety of gastrointestinal issues.


Early Detection Saves Lives: One of the primary reasons for undergoing a colonoscopy is the ability to detect and remove polyps before they become cancerous. Colorectal cancer often develops from precancerous polyps in the colon or rectum. By identifying and removing these growths during a colonoscopy, the risk of developing colorectal cancer is significantly reduced. Early detection translates to more effective treatment and improved chances of a full recovery.


Colorectal Cancer Statistics: Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide, and its prevalence continues to rise. Regular screening through colonoscopies plays a significant role in managing this trend. As with many types of cancer, early diagnosis can be a game-changer, leading to higher survival rates and better outcomes for patients.


Risk Reduction: Individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer or those with certain genetic conditions may be at a higher risk. Regular colonoscopies can help identify these risks early on, allowing for tailored preventive measures and increased supervision.


Prevention of Other Gastrointestinal Issues: Colonoscopies not only serve as a preventive measure for colorectal cancer but also help diagnose and address various gastrointestinal issues. These can include inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, as well as other conditions like diverticulosis and gastrointestinal bleeding.


Recommended Screening Guidelines: Medical organizations, including the American Cancer Society and the World Health Organization, provide guidelines for colorectal cancer screening. These guidelines are based on factors such as age, family history, and personal health history. Adhering to these recommendations ensures that individuals receive appropriate screenings at the right intervals.


Cologuard As An Alternative To Colonoscopy

Cologuard is a non-invasive at-home test that requires the collection of a stool sample. This makes it more accessible and convenient for those who may be averse to or unable to undergo a colonoscopy. Cologuard is specifically designed to detect altered DNA and blood in the stool, which can be indicative of colorectal cancer or precancerous conditions. Unlike colonoscopies, Cologuard does not require sedation, and there is no recovery time involved, making it a simpler option for some individuals. Cologuard is typically recommended for annual testing, providing more frequent screening opportunities.


It’s important to note that while Cologuard is a valuable screening tool, a positive result from Cologuard often requires follow-up with a colonoscopy for confirmation and further evaluation. The choice between a colonoscopy and Cologuard may depend on individual preferences, risk factors, and medical history.


Ultimately, both colonoscopies and Cologuard play important roles in colorectal cancer screening, and the decision between them should be made in consultation with a healthcare professional based on individual circumstances and preferences. However, colonoscopies provide more accurate screening results and polyps can be removed during the procedure.




The importance of having a colonoscopy cannot be emphasized enough. This routine procedure offers a proactive approach to maintaining digestive health and preventing colorectal cancer. By prioritizing regular screenings, individuals can take control of their well-being, leading to early detection, effective treatment, and ultimately, a higher quality of life. In general, if no abnormalities are found, individuals may only need to repeat a colonoscopy every 10 years. Taking care of your health today can make a significant difference in your health tomorrow.

The Silver Lining: With only one day of a special diet and slightly uncomfortable prep process, having a colonoscopy can save lives and may only need to be performed every 10 years! Don't put it off - schedule your colonoscopy!



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