Let's Talk About Colonoscopies

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Who wants to talk colonoscopies?

We do!  It’s National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.  Approximately 140,000 Americans are diagnosed every year.  And more than 50,000 Americans die every year from the disease.

The good news?  Colon cancer is a preventable disease.

The bad news?  Colorectal screenings, known as colonoscopies, aren’t something to write home about.  It can seem like an icky process.

But it’s proven to be life saving.  And who hasn’t done icky things that had no long term benefit?  So let’s talk seriously about a screening that could save your life or the life of your loved one.

Colonoscopies are recommended for those aged 50-75.  In fact, the CDC reports that 90% of colorectal cancers occur in those over 50.  If you are younger than 50, go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief, it’s not your turn yet.  But call your parents and grandparents and encourage them to do what’s highly recommended.

There seems to be an unwritten rule about not talking about your colonoscopy – before or after you have one.  So here’s what no-one wants to talk about.  (Keep in mind that there are always facility processes and procedures that might alter this scenario a bit, but you’ll get the general idea.) 

First, you have to clean out your bowels. 

There are a few steps to this – starting with the day before your procedure.  You’ll be instructed to consume only clear liquids.  Trust us, you’ll appreciate this later in the evening.  Starting around 4 or 5 p.m., you’ll begin drinking what will end up being approximately a gallon of a liquid concoction made up of water and whatever laxative type powder your provider prescribes.  You’ll pick this up from your local pharmacy. 

Sit back and relax.  Drinking the laxative concoction will be done over the course of the next several hours, ending around 10 p.m.  During this time, especially as the night goes on, you’ll want a good magazine or a good book, because, well, you’re cleaning out your bowels and there is only one place you’ll want to do that - on the “pot.”  All in the comfort of your own home, of course.

So, to summarize: You’ll have clear liquids the day before your procedure, then you’ll drink a gallon of a heavy laxative.  And you won’t be able to drink or eat anything the day of your procedure.

When you arrive at Greene County Medical Center, you’ll be greeted by a staff that believes in their vision, “Always Here, Always Caring.”  You’ll recognize some of your caregivers, and they might even know your name.  You’ll be in good hands.  And isn’t that reassuring when you are uncomfortable or scared?

Our surgery staff is second to none – our patient satisfaction surveys tell us so.  You’ll have someone with you nearly the entire time.  If you ask, they might hold your hand.  Before the procedure, you’ll be in one of the pre/post surgery rooms for about an hour.

One of the anesthesia staff members will be giving you a deep IV sedation throughout the entire procedure.  This makes it so that nearly every patient feels nothing or remembers nothing from the procedure itself.  You’ll be taken into the “scope” room where the general surgeon will perform the colonoscopy itself.  This takes approximately 45 minutes, but can be a bit longer depending on what the doctor sees.

The procedure involves a 5’ long “scope,” or camera being inserted through the rectum and extending throughout the entire colon.  The doctor is looking for any abnormalities such as polyps, or abnormal growths on the inside of the colon.  If polyps are found, the doctor will remove them during the procedure.  These would be sent to a pathologist for further testing.

After the procedure you’ll find yourself back in your private pre/post surgery room where a volunteer will offer you something to eat and drink.  This could be water, coffee or juice and toast or a muffin.  It’s a bland start after going nearly 24 hours without eating, but you won’t want much more at this point.  Save thoughts of that roast beef sandwich for dinner.

After a colonoscopy, you most likely won’t feel like shopping or going out to lunch or dinner.  In other words, there’s no extracurricular reason to travel 30-60 miles to have this done.  You’ll want to go home and take a nap, which makes being close to home important.

When the staff sees that you are capable of going home (approximately 30 or 45 minutes), you’ll be discharged.  But you won’t be driving – we’ll make sure you’ve brought a designated driver with you.  Our recommendation will be to go home and take that nap.  When you wake up, you’ll probably feel a bit tired, so relax in front of the television or read a good book.  Find your “to do” list and check off “get a colonoscopy.”  You did it!

Results for routine colonoscopies are known immediately since the surgeon is seeing the colon in real time.  If polyps are removed, a pathology report takes a few additional days.  Results are a big deal with a colonoscopy.  There’s a 95% “catch” rate for finding something that might be wrong.  And that means you can start the treatment you need right away.  Then there are those magic words, “clear” and “clean.”  Music to your ears.  Ours, too.

But here’s the deal.  You can’t check it off your “to do” list or get results if you don’t have the colonoscopy in the first place.

Another bit of good news?  Many health insurers are required to cover “recommended preventive services” without any patient cost-sharing, such as copays or deductibles.

The recommendations for preventive services come from the United States Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of clinicians and scientists.  Colorectal cancer screening is on that list.

But please don’t schedule any testing without first checking with your insurance provider.  And be sure you have them explain the fine print – because a screening sometimes only includes a “clean” screen and if something is found, it becomes a diagnostic treatment.  That fine print can sometimes be costly.

Not nearly as costly, however, as the costs associated with treating colorectal cancer, which the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable estimates to be about $12.2 billion each year in the United States.  Annual treatment for advanced cases may exceed $300,000 each.  These staggering costs can be avoided through screening.

Colon cancer is very treatable.  Early stages detected through screening are the least intrusive, and the least expensive to treat.  Regular screening (every 10 years for those 50-74 in age) can possibly prevent colon cancer because it is during this screening process that precancerous polyps are detected and removed.  Removing these before they reach the cancerous stage make cancer less likely.

Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?

It’s time to make the call that could find you having one uncomfortable day.  But one day out of 3,650 (10 years of days) makes for pretty good odds that it won’t be the worst day you face!  Call us or call your primary care provider and say, “I’m ready.”   

At Greene County Medical Center, we want you to be comfortable in your discomfort. We’ll be with you every step of the way.

We want to take care of you through this important screening process – all the while keeping you close to home.  So be sure you tell your provider, “I want my colonoscopy done close to home at Greene County Medical Center.”  Learn more about having your colonoscopy with Dr. Miller or Dr. Martin.