Have you had your colonoscopy lately?
Experts estimate that 60 percent of colorectal cancer deaths could have been prevented with a colonoscopy and yet recent reports indicate that one in three Americans are not up to date on their routine cancer screenings. So why wait? From the beginning of the pandemic, providers have highlighted how safe and essential this screening is. Even still, some point to fear and discomfort as the primary reasons for not scheduling this important screening. Let us help you put your fears to rest. We asked Daine Bennett, MD, a colorectal surgeon with Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Swedish Medical Center, to detail exactly what is involved.
Why do you need a colonoscopy?
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in both men and women. The disease occurs when cells in the colon or rectum grow irregularly. Often, this leads to changes in bowel habits, anemia, fatigue, blood in the stool and abdominal pain. “The good news about this type of cancer is that we can detect the earliest signs of it and treat it before it develops into a serious problem,” Dr. Bennett states. “Often, colorectal cancer starts with noncancerous polyps—small growths in the region. Polyps often don’t cause any symptoms but can be detected through colonoscopy. Most polyps can be removed with colonoscopy and can help us prevent cancer before it starts.”
What is a colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is an exam used to look inside the large intestine. The exam can find changes or abnormalities in the large intestine (also called the colon) and rectum. “The procedure generally takes around 30 minutes,” Dr. Bennett confirms. “In the case of colorectal screening, your doctor is looking for anything unusual, especially polyps.”
How do you prepare for a colonoscopy?
When you schedule your exam, your provider will give you a list of instructions. It’s important to follow these instructions carefully. You will want to schedule your exam for a time when you can have the evening prior and the day of completely dedicated to the exam. Preparation begins 24 hours before your exam with diet restriction – no solid food and only clear liquids. You’ll want to stay hydrated with lots of clear drinks for most of that time, but usually about two to four hours prior to the test, your doctor will ask you to stop eating and drinking entirely. The night prior, you will take strong laxatives to clear your digestive tract. “This may be uncomfortable for a short time but is very important to ensure the most effective exam possible,” Dr. Bennett encourages. “If there is anything left inside your colon, your doctor may not be able to see a polyp or other abnormality.”
What happens during a colonoscopy?
First, you will be given medication through an IV to help you relax, and you will lie on your left side. Your doctor will begin the exam by placing a colonoscope into your rectum. This thin, tube-like instrument has a light and camera on the end so your doctor can view the inside of your colon. The tube is advanced through the entirety of the colon, bending along with the curves of the intestine. Air may be pumped through the tube to inflate the colon to give your doctor a clearer picture of the area. “If abnormalities are found, the tool can be used to take sample, which will later be sent for testing,” Dr. Bennett details. “The colonoscope also can remove polyps that could turn into cancer.”
What happens after my colonoscopy?
After your colonoscopy, you will recover from the sedative for about an hour. You will need someone to drive you home as you cannot drive or make any important decisions for the rest of the day. You may need to stay on a special diet if your doctor removed a polyp. Be sure to follow these directions carefully. Some people feel bloated or gassy after the exam, but walking can help relieve discomfort. “Your first bowel movement after the exam may have a small amount of blood in it, but that does not mean something is wrong,” Dr. Bennett cautions. “If you continually pass blood or blood clots, or if you have a fever or severe abdominal pain, seek medical attention. Very rarely there are complications after the exam.”
Your doctor will prepare your results and share those with you. If no abnormalities are found, your doctor likely will recommend another colonoscopy in 10 years. If you have had a history of polyps, another exam in five years often is recommended. If your doctor finds polyps or abnormal tissue in the colon, your doctor will explain next steps. “A positive result from a colonoscopy may mean your doctor will send tissue for further testing, or you may be referred to a specialist like myself who has expertise in large polyps and colorectal cancer,” Dr. Bennett explains. “If this is the case, don’t panic. There are many highly effective treatment options for colorectal cancer and other diseases of the colon, especially when we catch it as early as possible.”
Colorectal cancer treatment in metro Denver
Soon, patients in metro Denver will have one location where they can turn for all types of cancer prevention services, offices of related providers, support, treatment spaces, nurse navigation and many more resources. The Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Swedish Medical Center is creating an all-new cancer pavilion, right on the hospital’s East Hampden campus. “The benefit of the new cancer pavilion is coordination. Providers can work together more seamlessly and effortlessly. Patients have one location for all their appointments and services. It’s not only convenient, but also beneficial to care plans, which will be even more advanced and multidisciplinary as we enhance our workflow at the cancer pavilion.” This new space is an enhancement and coordination of the hospital’s already robust cancer program. The cancer pavilion project is underway with an anticipated opening in late 2022. Learn more at SwedishHospital.com/CancerPavilion
Get started now!
This month is colorectal cancer awareness month, and there is no better time than to get your screening scheduled! Take this opportunity to not only reach out to your provider to schedule your cancer screenings, but also take steps toward living a healthier lifestyle. You can reduce your risk of colorectal cancer by eating a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and whole grains; reducing your alcohol intake; quitting smoking; exercising 30 minutes each day; and maintaining a healthy weight. “There is no better time than today to start living a healthier life,” Dr. Bennett implores. “Work with your doctor to set a schedule for cancer screenings and get started now by making healthier choices—every little bit counts!”
Daine Bennett, MD, is a board-certified colorectal surgeon with special interest in minimally invasive colorectal surgery including robotic and laparoscopic techniques. Dr. Bennett received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and medical degree from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He completed General Surgery residency at the University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus. During this time, he studied molecular mechanisms of cancer metastasis and obtained a Master of Science in Clinical Science. After finishing his fellowship in Colon and Rectal Surgery at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, he practiced colorectal surgery at John Peter Smith hospital in Fort Worth before moving back to Denver.
Dr. Bennett clinical interests include all aspects of colorectal surgery including colon and rectal cancer, Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis, hemorrhoids, fistulas, fissures, incontinence, and colonoscopy.