Do I Need to Get a Colonoscopy?
By Robert M. Dettmer, MD, Gastroenterology
Do the Right Thing: Schedule Your Colonoscopy
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You’re turning 45, maybe 50, and haven’t yet scheduled your first colonoscopy. For a whole slew of reasons, you may feel that colonoscopies are unnecessary which leads you to postponing your colonoscopy screening, refusing it or avoiding it all together. Maybe you’re confident you already have your colorectal health under control or you’re not looking forward to prepping for the procedure.
Here are some of the most common excuses for avoiding your colonoscopy and my responses to them from the standpoint of a gastroenterologist. In brief, please don’t delay this potentially life-saving screening!
1. The idea of a colonoscopy makes me feel uncomfortable.
Trust us when we say you won’t feel a thing during the procedure—you’ll be sedated through an IV and we’ll make sure you’re as comfortable as possible. So you’re aware, we also look for other benign colon conditions, not just signs of colorectal cancer. Inflamed tissue, open sores (ulcers) and pouches (diverticula) in the colon are all benign. We may remove some precancerous polyps if detected.
2. I’m afraid my insurance won’t cover a colonoscopy screening.
Not necessarily true. Most insurance providers cover colonoscopy screenings if you qualify. If you know you need a colonoscopy, we suggest working with your medical team and your insurance to understand what you can expect in terms of coverage.
3. Do I have to drink that colonoscopy prep liquid?
Yes—your doctor can talk to you about specific ways to improve the taste if that’s a concern. We can’t do anything about the liquid diet the day before the colonoscopy, or the number of times you may need to visit the bathroom, which varies from person to person. The prep allows us to clearly see your colon with the colonoscope—or the long tube with a camera and light—in order accurately detect anything.
4. What I don’t know about colonoscopies can’t hurt me.
Sure, the odds of not having colorectal cancer may be in your favor, but is it worth the risk? No. There’s a reason why the American Cancer Society now recommends colon cancer screening begin at age 45 for those at average risk. If you have any questions or concerns about getting screened for colon cancer, speak with your doctor.
5. I’m healthy and a colonoscopy screening is not a priority right now. Maybe in another 5 years.
While there are lifestyle factors you can control that may reduce your risk of colon cancer, good health is only a piece of the puzzle. Other risk factors for colon cancer include family history and age. Right now, we recommend those at average risk get screened every 10 years for colorectal cancer. A lot can happen in that amount of time!
Bottom line: A colonoscopy is necessary and colorectal cancer screening saves lives. Regular colonoscopy screenings are the best way to detect colorectal cancer at its most treatable and beatable stage.