Today I had my first colonoscopy.
While I had no symptoms of problems “down there”, after listening to many doctors recommendations and reading, and because of my age, and because Katie Couric is my favorite TV news person, I decided to get it done. Yet like many, I had hesitated for several years to have the test. I eat a vegetarian diet and have for 37 years. There’s no family history and I take pretty good care of myself.
However, I also didn’t want to have something bad show up later that could have been found in this test. Plus – it’s National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month here in the U.S.!
So I evaluated the evidence, alternatives, and risks. The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently issued a report noting that comparative effectiveness data have shown at-home stool tests to be equivalent to colonoscopies at catching cancer early in patients who don’t have additional risk factors. Another option is the Flexible Sigmoidoscopy to check the lower 1/3 of the colon. However, the colonoscopy allows direct viewing and medical analysis of the entire colon with the option to remove polyps or cancers; plus it’s a common, well-practiced procedure. I decided that the discomfort was a small price to pay for either potential outcome. More about the discomfort later.
Colon cancer is currently the third leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. The test is credited with helping significantly lower rates of colorectal cancer deaths. Overall, incidence rates decreased by approximately 3% per year during the past decade (2001–2010). Notably, the largest drops occurred in adults aged 65 and older. For instance, rates for tumors located in the distal colon decreased by more than 5% per year. In contrast, rates increased during this time period among adults younger than 50 years. Colorectal cancer death rates declined by approximately 2% per year during the 1990s and by approximately 3% per year during the past decade. Progress in reducing colorectal cancer death rates can be accelerated by improving access to and use of screening and standard treatment in all populations.
Source: CA Cancer J Clin 2014;64:104–117. © 2014 American Cancer Society.
Unfortunately, screening rates remain low for people poor and uninsured. Yet according to the CDC, “Where feasible, the 25 states and 4 tribes in CDC’s Colorectal Cancer Control Program provide colorectal cancer screening and follow-up care to low-income men and women aged 50–64 years who are underinsured or uninsured for screening, when resources are available and there is no other payment option. Colorectal cancer screening tests may be covered by your health insurance policy without a deductible or co-pay.”
Only Try This at Home
My prep was simple. I stopped eating raw fruit, raw veggies, corn, nuts, and bran 5 days prior to the procedure. The day before the procedure I drank only clear liquids – no milk or pulp juices allowed. I was able to enjoy my morning coffee! And later I had vegetable broth for lunch adding water an clear juices the rest of the day.
At 4pm the real fun started. My doctor’s regimen included:
- Taking four Bisacodyl, USP 5 mg tablets (brand name Ducolax®; I used the less expensive but identical generic TopCare® brand).
- An 8.3 ounce bottle of Polyethylene Glycol 3350 Powder (brand name Miralax®; I used the TopCare® brand) dissolved in 64 ounces of clear liquid. Drank in 8-ounce portions every 15-30 minutes.
- And the final course of this fancy dinner was four more Bisacodyl, USP 5 mg tablets.
For me, the end time of this laxative overdose was around 7:30pm. I was expecting some “action” more quickly than it happened; it wasn’t until after 8:30pm that I became a Jack-in-the-Box, jumping up from watching TV to rush to the bathroom. It was not painful – I had some gas and boating but no pain from the “Spring cleaning” that continued through the night until about 5am. I didn’t get much sleep, and when I did snooze, I dreamt about being in a place with no working toilets.
By Now I’m More than Ready
My wife and I hit the road at 7am for the 7:30am scheduled arrival across town. Inside the gastrointestinal endoscopy facility they verified my identity and insurance. (Not sure why anyone would commit fraud to get a colonoscopy.) At 7:45am they called me back to a prep area with sliding curtains and a hospital bed.
I undressed, put on the blue gown, put my clothes in a bag, and lied down. Soon a nurse arrived to ask me my weight, age, medicines, when I last ate & drank, etc. Took my heart rate and blood pressure. “Are you nervous?” she asked, “Your blood pressure is a little high.” I answered, “yes” and thought who isn’t nervous doing this the first time? She then inserted the anesthesia catheter, while another nurse attached two sticky wired pads on my left side to monitor my heart.
I then waited 30 minutes or so while the doctor finished the previous procedure that took longer than expected. The anesthesiologist arrived and asked if I was allergic to any meds and explained that he would give me Propofol, after which I would get the procedure and then wake up without feeling the procedure or remembering anything. (There are other sedation alternatives that don’t put you completely “under”, so that is something to discuss with your doctor.) He wheeled me into another room. Seconds later I saw the doctor.
The anesthesiologist told me the Propofol would sting going in, but it didn’t. Then the procedure was performed; reportedly – for some strange reason the doctor started at the end …
You’re Not in Kansas Anymore
The next thing I knew, I opened my eyes to see my beautiful wife standing next to me. I barely recall that she asked me what I wanted to eat and I quickly answered, “the buffet at the casino.”
The doctor came by in a few minutes to walk me through the results, with photos, which indicated nothing bad. He said return in 7 years for another looksie. When I told him about my vegetarian diet, the doctor winced and said, “well you’re doing better than me on THAT.” Soon I was dressed and outa there.
The doctors said I could eat anything afterwards, but didn’t have time for the casino. So we went to iHop and ate breakfast; iHop never tasted so good. Now I’m home. Nothing hurts except my throat, apparently because of oxygen used during the procedure. This is common.
I Reduced My Risk by Getting Screened
I feel good about my decision to be screened. Yes, some of it was unpleasant and scary but that’s all temporary. Consider getting screened – it could save your life. Get more information at StopColonCancerNow.com and see some of the research discussed at the Cancer Prevention & Treatment Fund.