- - Thursday, March 26, 2015

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday dear fif-teeeee
Now it’s time for a colonosco-peeeee

While not quite a Hallmark moment, my point is that a colonoscopy may be a gift that could save your life or the life of someone you love. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. That is because more than 50,000 Americans lose their lives every year to colon cancer; thus, making it the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women. And because approximately 60 percent of those deaths could be prevented with early screening and appropriate treatment, we have a call to action.

Colonoscopies allow for precancerous lesions, known as polyps, to be removed before they develop into cancer. And, we all know that when cancer is found early, hopes for a cure and survival improve.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need to Know About Colonoscopies:

What is a colonoscopy?
A procedure that allows your gastroenterologist doctor to look at the inner lining of your rectum and colon. They use a special device to visualize polyps, tumors, and areas of inflammation or bleeding. Tissue samples can be biopsied (collected) and abnormal growths such as polyps can be removed.

At what age should I have my first colonoscopy?
Regular colonoscopy screenings in people without risk factors should begin at age 50 and age 45 in African Americans. If risk factors are present, discuss with your doctor if you should begin screening at an earlier age. Risk factors include: a personal history of colon cancer or polyps, a personal history of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, a family history of colon cancer or polyps, or certain hereditary polyp syndromes.

Am I one and done?
No. We do not celebrate our birthday only once; but, fortunately, for most, we do not perform colonoscopies yearly. Repeat surveillance in those with a negative test is every 7-10 years until the age of 75. In those with abnormal tests, it needs to be repeated more frequently.

What do I need to do to prepare for my colonoscopy?
Prior to any party, preparation needs to take place. Your colonoscopy will be more accurate if your gastroenterologist can clearly see the inside lining of the intestines. Cleaning out the colon before the colonoscopy involves a “prep” that takes 1-2 days, depending on the type your doctor recommends. The prep causes loose and frequent stools or diarrhea in order to empty your colon. Although inconvenient, missing polyps or lesions can be a real party “pooper.”

How long is the colonoscopy scheduled for?
The procedure typically takes between 15-60 minutes, depending on what the gastroenterologist visualizes and if they need to biopsy or remove any polyps or other abnormal findings.

What should I expect on the day of the colonoscopy?
Prior to your colonoscopy, intravenous fluids are started to provide hydration and allow for sedative medications to be administered. You will be placed on monitors that continuously display your heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure and oxygen levels. And instead of a birthday party hat, you will receive a mask or nasal cannula that delivers supplemental oxygen.

What happens during a colonoscopy?
If polyps or a mass is seen, a biopsy is taken and sent to a laboratory for examination under a microscope by a pathologist. Additionally, because polyps can become cancerous, removing them can prevent colon cancer. Although it may sound uncomfortable, biopsies are typically painless.

What happens after the colonoscopy?
Because sedation is administered, you will need to remain in an observation area for 45 minutes to 2 hours while the effects of medications have had the opportunity to wear off. Similar to drinking and driving, this is a no-no. A “designated driver” must be appointed to take you home. The medications given for sedation can impair reflexes and judgment.

Knowing what to expect during a colonoscopy can hopefully debunk some of the myths we hear about it. And although not quite as fun as your 50th birthday party, having the procedure may be the key to enjoying many more birthdays down the road. All joking aside, staying colon cancer-free not only includes screenings but also maintaining communication with your doctor. Inform your doctor if you experience changes in your bowel habits, abdominal pain or weight loss. Feliz cumpleanos!

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