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6 Myths about Colonoscopies

If the thought of getting a colonoscopy makes you grimace, you're not alone. However, the procedure may not be as bad as you think -- and it could save your life. Early detection and regular screenings are key to avoiding this deadly disease. Here are six facts regarding the most common myths about colonoscopies:

Myth: I don’t have any symptoms, so I don't need a colonoscopy.

Fact: Colon polyps and even early cancer can be growing in the lining of the colon without causing any symptoms. If cancer causes symptoms, it likely means it’s in more advanced stages. Early detection is key.

The American College of Gastroenterology recommends getting a colonoscopy every 10 years beginning at age 50 and at age 45 for African Americans. Colonoscopy may be recommended at a younger age if you are in a higher risk group for developing colon cancer. Consult your physician if you have a personal history of colon polyps, a family history of colon cancer or inherited forms of colorectal polyps, or if you have a predisposing chronic inflammatory condition of the colon such as inflammatory bowel disease.

Myth: Colonoscopies are painful.

Fact: During the procedure, you will be asleep and comfortable with the help of safe sedative medications. The actual procedure takes about 15 to 30 minutes, and you may resume normal activities the next day.

Myth: Preparing for a colonoscopy is terrible.

Fact: Until recently, patients were asked to drink a gallon of preparation solution in one day in order to clean out the colon. Drinking that much liquid could be challenging. Now, it can be taken in a split dose -- half the night before the procedure and half on the morning of the procedure, for example. However, your doctor can discuss and prescribe the most appropriate preparation method for you. As far as dealing with the salty taste of the prep solution, patients may mix it with ginger ale, Gatorade or other physician-suggested liquids to make it more palatable.

Myth: Colonoscopy only detects cancer, it doesn’t prevent it.

Fact: Colonoscopy not only detects early cancer (which is potentially curable), it also removes precancerous polyps, avoiding subsequent development of cancer. It’s estimated that more than 75 percent of colorectal cancer can be prevented through early removal of polyps.

Myth: Colonoscopy is the only way to screen for colon cancer.

Fact: Colonoscopy is the preferred test for screening, as it detects more cancers, examines the entire colon and can be used to diagnose and remove precancerous polyps at the same time. However, other options, such as a stool test, may be appropriate for certain situations. Ask your doctor to be sure.

Myth: Only men get colon cancer.

Fact: Both men and women have a similar risk of colon cancer, and it affects all races. The number one risk factor for colon cancer is age.

Colorectal Health Care at UTMB