The One Test No One Wants to Talk About

This is one column people may want to skip right over, but it’s definitely one everyone needs to read – especially if you’re over 50. The subject? Colonoscopies. Before you skip to the next headline, hear me out: Colonoscopies are important and a valuable tool for physicians. Not only do colonoscopies screen for colon cancer, if any polyps are found they can be immediately removed. And if the doctor finds nothing? You likely won’t need another one for 10 years.

Colonoscopies are a valuable tool for identifying colon cancer, which is the third most common cancer diagnosed in men and women. Colon cancer is also the second-leading cause of cancer related deaths in the United States. Most people should have their first one at age 50 unless there is a family history of colon cancer; then you may need to have one earlier. Be sure to tell your medical provider if anyone in your family has had colon cancer.

For colonoscopies, the preparation is the worst part for most people. You’ll need to modify your diet for a few days leading up to it and then the day or night before – depending on the appointment time – you’ll need to drink a laxative cocktail. In other words, you’ll be spending a lot of time in the bathroom.

On the day of the procedure, you’ll need someone to drive you since you’ll receive a sedative to help you relax. The doctor will insert a slender, flexible tube about the thickness of your finger into your rectum. It has a tiny video camera so a picture is projected on a nearby TV so the doctor can see what’s inside. The exam itself takes 15 to 30 minutes. The doctor looks for polyps or small growths that over time can become cancer. If any are found, they can be immediately removed and tested. Afterwards, you’ll probably want to go home and take a nap. You can resume your regular activities the next day.

People have tons of reasons to skip their colonoscopies: they don’t want to miss work, they can’t find someone to drive them, they don’t want to deal with the prep.  A couple of years ago, ThedaCare even created Wally Polyp, a character that’s full of excuses. You can check him out at www.idontwantacolonscopy.com; he’s definitely amusing.

All joking aside, those excuses don’t hold water. Colonoscopies are important and afterwards most people realize it’s not as bad as they thought and wonder what the fuss was all about.

If you actually read through this whole column, congratulations. The next step is to schedule that colonoscopy.

Scott Schuldes is a certified family nurse practitioner and associate medical director at ThedaCare Physicians-Hilbert. He can be reached at scott.schuldes@thedacare.org.