Dispelling the Myths of the Colonoscopy

Thursday, March 20, 2014 3:24 PM comments (0)

colonoscopyColon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, claiming nearly 29,000 men and women each year. It is surpassed only by lung cancer. Colon cancer also happens to be one of the most preventable cancers. Studies have shown that a colonoscopy can reduce the risk of developing and dying from colorectal cancer by 90%. A colonscopy can enable a physician to identify and remove polyps before they even become malignant. 

David Labowitz, DO, MPH, Gastroenterology at NorthShore, addresses some of the damaging myths about colonoscopy that discourage many from getting this lifesaving procedure when they should:

Myth #1: The “prep work” is terrible.
You do have to empty your colon before a colonoscopy. This is the hardest part of the exam, but the most important.  I always tell patients that without a good prep, it’s like driving through fog—you cannot see where you are going.  However, the prep does not have to be a terrible experience. The day before the procedure, you should stop eating solid food and consume only clear liquids; however, you can have more than just water. Incorporating variety—tea, Jell-O, sports drinks and broth—into your 24-hour clear liquid diet will help make it more bearable.

The most common complaint is the volume of colonoscopy prep electrolyte solution that must be consumed to clear the bowels. To make this easier, we actually split the drinking of the prep into two different time periods (the evening before and a couple of hours before the procedure).  This not only is an easier way for patients to accomplish the prep, but has been shown in national studies to be a better way to prep for the procedure.  Think about the prep this way: the cleaner your colon, the faster and easier the procedure the next day. Unfortunately, if your colon isn’t clear because you have failed to drink the solution, polyps and lesions could go undetected or the results could be inconclusive. Further, the procedure may need to be repeated. It’s all about doing it right the first time.

Expert Tips! Make the Prep a Little Easier 

  • Drink it all at once, as quickly as possible through a straw
  • Refrigerate it so it's nearly ice cold
  • Suck on a piece of hard candy or chew a piece of gum immediately after drinking the solution
  • Mix the solution with something like Crystal Light

Myth #2: The procedure is painful.
A colonoscopy is a very tolerable procedure. Further, it does not take very long and most of the time is completed within 20-30 minutes. Before the procedure begins, you will be given a sedative to help you relax. In fact, most patients will sleep through the entire procedure and wake up not remembering any of it. Those who remain awake during the procedure report nothing more than slight cramping or pressure in the abdomen, similar to the feeling of having a bowel movement. 

Myth #3: It’s embarrassing.
Our NorthShore gastroenterologists perform over 35,000 GI procedures each year—the majority being colonoscopies—so they have a lot of experience making sure patients are as comfortable with the process as possible. Patients can also make an appointment with their gastroenterologist before the procedure to meet face to face and ask any questions that will help them feel more comfortable. 

Myth #4: There is a high risk of complications.
Complications during or after a colonoscopy are very rare. The bottom line is your risk of developing colon cancer is far higher than your risk of suffering a complication due to a colonoscopy. It is, however, important to schedule your colonoscopy with a physician who is certified to perform this procedure. 

Myth #5: Colonoscopies aren’t necessary for women.
Colorectal cancer affects men and women in nearly equal numbers. It’s not a man’s disease; therefore, screening colonoscopies are for everyone. Women need to schedule their first screening colonoscopy starting at age 50, just like men. More than 90% of colorectal cancer is diagnosed in people who are 50 or older. Those with a family history of the disease and other risk factors—a history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), history of polyps, type 2 diabetes, obesity and smoking—might need to start screening early and undergo screening more often. Ask your doctor when you should begin screening.

For more information on colonoscopies and to make an appointment, click here

Colorectal Cancer – Early Screening Can Save Lives

Tuesday, March 26, 2013 9:30 AM comments (0)

colon cancerColorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in both men and women in the United States. However, if everyone over the age of 50 were regularly screened, it might be possible to reduce deaths associated with colorectal cancer by as much as 60 percent.

Many women believe that colorectal cancer is a disease that affects more men than women, so they might not be aware of or believe they need to follow current screening recommendations. National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month this March is the right time to spread the word that colorectal cancer affects men and women equally and that screening saves lives.

Joel Retsky, MD, Gastroenterologist, shares some important information about colorectal cancer everyone should know, men and women:

  • Your risk increases with age. More than 90% of colorectal cancer cases occur in those who are 50 or older. Everyone over the age of 50 should follow national screening guidelines and continue screening at regular intervals at least until 75 years of age.
  • You should not wait for symptoms. Colorectal cancer rarely causes noticeable symptoms in the early stages. Symptoms of colorectal cancer—bleeding from the rectum, change in bowel habits, noticeable weight loss—often do not appear until the cancer is advanced and more difficult to treat. Most colorectal cancers come from polyps, or abnormal masses, that grow in the inner lining of the large intestine. With screening, polyps can be removed before they even become cancerous.
  • Family history is important. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, you may need to begin screening earlier, perhaps at 40 or even younger. You will also need to be screened more frequently than currently recommended by the national guidelines. 
  • Personal history is important. Some studies have shown that women who have had ovarian, uterine or breast cancer have a higher-than-average chance of developing colorectal cancer. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are also risk factors. Talk to your physician about how these risk factors might affect the frequency of your screenings.
  • There are several screening options. There are many tests for colorectal cancer, including fecal occult blood test (FOBT), sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, virtual colonoscopy and barium enema. Colonoscopy is the most effective test for colon cancer screening. Talk to your physician about which screening option is best for you.


If you’re 50 or over and have never been screened for colorectal cancer, make National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month the month you schedule your first appointment.


Have you been screened for colorectal cancer?

Colon Cancer Prevention: Screening is Key

Thursday, March 01, 2012 8:41 AM comments (0)

Colon Cancer ScreeningColon cancer is one of the most preventable cancers in the United States—nearly 90% preventable with colonoscopy. Despite this, it is the second leading cause of cancer death, affecting more than 29,000 men and women in this country each year.

NorthShore Gastroenterologist, Monica Borkar, MD,  provides a list of risk factors that affect the development of colon polyps—and thereby, colon cancer—including:

Colon cancer starts as a polyp, or growth, in the colon.  These polyps grow slowly over many years, and larger ones are more likely to be dangerous.

In most cases people do not have symptoms, although common symptoms of colon cancer include:

  • Change in bowel habits
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in the stool
  • Age  - Most people who develop colon cancer and colon polyps are over 50 years old.
  • Genetics - A family history of colon cancer imparts a greater risk of developing polyps and cancer; people are usually screened earlier than 50 and are advised to return at shorter intervals if colon cancer has affected someone in their immediate family.
  • Diet - A diet high in red meat and low in dietary fiber may lead to colon cancer development.
  • Exercise - A sedentary lifestyle may be associated with colon cancer so exercise at least one hour three times per week.
  • Personal history of colon polyps - Individuals who have a history of colon polyps are more likely to develop them in the future.
  • Personal history of colon, endometrial, breast or uterine cancer.
  • Certain genetic conditions - Specific types of colitis or inherited diseases can make colon cancer more likely.

National guidelines recommend that individuals with a lack of the risk factors listed above undergo colonoscopy at age 50. Colonoscopy for colon cancer screening—a 20-minute procedure—is the most important test to check for polyps and cancer, even before symptoms arise, and leads to prompt diagnosis and treatment with an excellent survival rate.

Are you surprised by any of the risk factors listed above?

× Alternate Text