Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me About Cancer Screening

Life would be easier if we didn't have to learn lessons the hard way. Fear of the unknown can alter your decision making process and is sometimes responsible for poor health decisions. If you are afraid to get screened for colorectal cancer or petrified of a cancer diagnosis this article is meant for you.

The Bowel Prep Only Lasts for a Day or Two

You would likely be amazed at the number of patients I encounter who refuse or delay their colonoscopy due to fear of the bowel preparation required.

It may not be a fun process to endure, but the bowel prep takes a day or two at a maximum and is an important factor in the reliability of your test result. A clean colon allows your gastroenterologist to see every nuance inside your colon and potentially differentiate healthy tissues from precancerous to cancerous growths

Similarly, the recommendations for cleansing the bowel are updated frequently. The process used most commonly now is much different than what we were doing even a decade ago. If you're pushing off your colonoscopy because you have nightmares of drinking gallons of laxative solution it's time to discuss the newer preps with your doctor. Many doctors are now using split dosing of the laxatives, and some are even ordering pills for cleansing. So yes -- you will have liquid stools and probably some cramping -- but it's temporary and survivable.

The Test Will Be Over Before You Know It

Another common fear is that you will have to endure feeling the scope placed into your rectum for the colonoscopy.

You will not. As a matter of fact, you will not be awake during your colonoscopy procedure. Once you've changed out of your clothes, signed a medical consent form, and have an intravenous line (IV) placed, there is probably little else you will remember about the procedure until you awake in recovery.

I've even had people tell me what a "wonderful nap" it was and how refreshed they felt following the anesthesia.

The Fear of the Unknown Ends with Results

Immediately following your procedure your gastroenterologist will tell you what he or she found in your colon. Other than waiting for biopsy results if needed, your doctor can inform if he or she found anything anything in your colon and the likelihood that it was cancerous based on size and appearance. Some people report a little difficulty remembering this conversation due to lingering sedation, so it is prudent to bring along a loved one to listen in as well when the doctor gives you your results. 

A Colonoscopy is Far Easier Than a Bowel Resection

Fear of a diagnosis of cancer is one of the main precluding factors to this screening exam. Avoiding a colonoscopy so you don't get diagnosed with colon cancer is similar to pulling the sheets over your head so that the monster can't see you during childhood. The colonoscopy doesn't create cancer.

It finds it so that you can start early treatment and improve your chances of survival. When cancer is present and left alone to grow in your colon, the tumors can become large and invasive and less easily removed with a colonoscopy. Once the tumor invades nearby tissue your treatment options radically change and can include things like bowel resection, colostomy bags, chemotherapy and radiation.

Early Detection Saves Lives

Scheduling an exam that may or may not show you have cancer is frightening. If it comes to the least desirable result -- and the doctor informs that you have bowel cancer -- rest assured in the knowledge that detection is vital for treatment. Colon cancer, like many cancers, is most easily treated in early stages. You may require nothing more than biopsy and removal, during the colonoscopy, of the cancerous polyp. The presence of cancer will also hopefully stimulate diligent adherence to future screenings so that you can continue to enjoy a state of well being.


American society for Gastrointestinal Colonoscopy. (2006). Consensus Document on Bowel Preparing for Colonoscopy. Accessed online May 22, 2015.

Harvard Health Publications. (n.d.). Preparing for a Colonoscopy. Accessed online May 29, 2015.

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