Colon 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
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.
#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.
There are many risk factors for colon cancer that are beyond your control—being over the age of 50, family
history of colorectal cancer, personal history of polyps, inflammatory intestinal conditions like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. There are, however, risk factors you can mitigate by making some simple and some not-so-simple changes to your lifestyle.
Susannah Spiess, MD, Gastroenterologist at NorthShore, encourages everyone to make these healthy lifestyle changes to help lower
the risk for colon cancer:
Eat a high-fiber, low-fat diet. Studies have shown that diets high in fat and lower in fiber may increase your risk for developing colon cancer. These same studies also indicate an increased risk for those who consume large quantities of
red meat regularly. Shift the focus of your diet away from meat, particularly red meat, and give fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains top billing on your plate.
Get up and move. This doesn’t just mean 30 minutes of exercise a day. Get up and move throughout the day. An inactive, sedentary lifestyle can increase your risk of developing colon cancer. If you spend most of your day sitting behind a
desk, stand up and move every 20 minutes or whenever possible.
Lose weight. Changing your diet and increasing your activity level will work wonders on your waistline as well. Obesity significantly increases one’s risk for not only developing colon cancer but also dying from the disease if diagnosed.
Break the habit. It’s a terribly unhealthy habit. Smoking increases your risk for a number of serious health issues, from lung cancer and heart disease to stroke and, you guessed it, colon cancer. The time to break the habit is now.
Cut back. The excessive consumption of alcohol raises your risk for several types of cancers, including cancer of the colon and rectum. Monitor your daily and weekly consumption of alcohol and ensure that it is no more than 14 units of alcohol
per week and no more than three in any single day.
Get a colonoscopy. While adopting these lifestyle changes could reduce one’s risk for colon cancer, screening colonoscopy is the only proven method of preventing the disease.
Have you made an appointment to get your first colonoscopy? Find out more
This year, spring clean your diet, too. "Clean" eating means to create a balanced diet of fresh, unprocessed foods with the central focus on fruits and vegetables. The health benefits of clean eating are many, such as possible weight loss and the reduction
of one's risk for diabetes and some types of cancer, including colon cancer.
The experts at NorthShore University HealthSystem have created an infographic that illustrates the benefits of clean eating and breaks down the most important clean eating guidelines. Click on the image below to view the