I had a chance to catch up with a close friend who turned 50 right before Christmas. Early in our conversation, we started comparing our holiday plans. “Next week, I’m scheduled to have a colonoscopy It’s one procedure that doctors really recommend after you turn 50,” I said. “Really?” my friend said. “I didn’t know that.” Based on my friend’s response, I thought I’d focus on the importance of the colonoscopy for all middle-age women instead of a menopause topic this week.
The American Cancer Society reported, “Colorectal cancer screening helps people stay well and save lives. Nine out of 10 people whose colon cancer is discovered early will be alive 5 years later. And many will live a normal life span. But too often people don't get these tests. Then the cancer can grow and spread without being noticed, like a silent invader. In many cases, by the time people have any symptoms the cancer is very advanced and very hard to treat.”
I first heard of a colonoscopy in 2002 when Katie Couric’s procedure aired on The Today Show.” (Her husband, Jay Monahan, died of colon cancer in 1998 at the age of 42.) Researchers found that in the years after Couric’s colonoscopy aired, 20% more people had the procedure. More recently, Dr. Mehmet Oz has encouraged people to get colonoscopies after his own procedure found a precancerous polyp (which was successfully removed).
A colonoscopy is a procedure in which a small camera is attached to a flexible tube. After being inserted through the anus, the camera is gently advanced throughout the entire colon, according to MedlinePlus. If irregularities are found, the doctor can take a biopsy or remove polyps during the procedure.
A colonoscopy sounds awful, but based on my experience, it’s not. Here is some information to make it easier:
- Eat a BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast) several days prior to the procedure. This will make it easier for you to handle the one-day liquid diet and laxatives.
- Stay close to a bathroom. On the day before the colonoscopy, you’ll be on a liquids-only diet. Later in the day, you’ll take several laxatives at prescribed intervals. Thus, I’d strongly recommend that you not have any major plans since you’ll find yourself heading to the bathroom quite often.
- You won’t remember anything. You’ll be given a strong sedative prior to the procedure. The drug knocked me out within 15 seconds and I don’t remember anything about the procedure.
- You’ll need a driver. The sedative will leave you groggy for the rest of the day so the medical professionals don’t want you handling heavy equipment (like a car).
- You’ll have quick results! Upon waking up, I was greeted by the doctor who told me that I didn’t have any polyps or tumors.
- The only discomfort will be a lot of gas. Air is inserted into the colon to allow the camera to get a better view. That gas was the only real surprise and discomfort from the whole procedure. I felt like someone was playing a pinball game in my intestines as the air moved around, trying to escape. Passing gas was the only way to relieve the uncomfortable tension.
- You’ll be back to a normal diet really quickly. The nurse said to go with something bland right after the procedure but that I could eat spicy food by that evening.