Digestive | Prevention
March 4, 2016

The not-so-obvious benefits of a colonoscopy

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From fitting into my skinny jeans to taking a really great nap, I experienced a variety of surprising colonoscopy benefits.

 

You know the saying “easier said than done?”

When it came to the healthcare advice I had dished out for the better part of 15 years, I found that to be true. As communications officer for Vanderbilt’s cancer center, I had long believed in — and touted — the benefits of colon cancer screening.

Yet somehow, when I celebrated that birthday (50), I found all kinds of reasons to put off my colonoscopy. I delayed for 13 months and felt guilty the entire time. After all, I had glibly told hundreds of people over the years that colonoscopy – an examination of the colon under light sedation – was the “gold standard” for catching colon cancer early and that they should all do it as soon as they turned 50.

I still don’t know why I procrastinated. I was motivated. A dear colleague died of colon cancer that wasn’t caught until it was advanced, and another’s life was likely saved when his first screening at age 51 detected an early tumor.

And I had heard firsthand from a few slightly older friends who had already done it. They all reported that the worst part was the “prep” to clean out the colon ahead of time, and that it really was no big deal.

I finally scheduled it 13 months later. Guess what? The worst part was the prep (and even that wasn’t that bad). It was no big deal.

Ever the optimist, I would dare say there are some surprising, unexpected benefits of acolonoscopy:

My belly was flat and my skinny jeans fit better than ever … for a few days anyway. If you want to jump-start that weight-loss plan, what better way than a liquid diet and complete colon cleanse?

I caught up on Netflix. When I explained to my niece, 12, that I was going to spend my Sunday afternoon taking laxatives to clean out my colon so the doctor could see any polyps or tumors the next day, she had one wise piece of advice: “Better make sure your devices are charged.” I took my laptop into the bathroom and binge-watched old episodes of “Mad Men.” The hours I was restricted to the bathroom (about three, I think) flew by.

It was a bonding moment for my adult daughter and me. Because of the sedation required during the procedure, you must have someone with you to drive you home. I remember very little about waking up in recovery, the drive home and getting settled on the sofa — but my daughter does and I know it. So I no longer tease her about the silly things she said and did when I was driving her home after getting her wisdom teeth removed.

I had the best nap of my life. After I got home that morning, I slept all afternoon. It was the peaceful sleep of a child. I don’t think I’ve had a satisfying a nap before or since. A bonus: The first meal after more than 24 hours on a liquid diet or no food/drink at all was delicious!

Of course, I’m making light of something very serious. The best thing about getting a colonoscopy is that you just might save your life.

Colon cancer is the third most common cancer – affecting men and women equally – and the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.

The good news is that colon cancer tends to develop slowly and in a very predictable way. Caught early, when the tumor is confined to the colon, it is very curable. And because most colon cancers start as precancerous growths called polyps, you can even prevent it by having a colonoscopy by finding and removing those polyps before cancer develops.

Luckily, my results were clean. I don’t have to have another screening for 10 years.

If you are 50ish, please do as I say and not as I did: Don’t put it off.

If you have a family history of colon cancer, please talk to your doctor about when you should begin routine screening. You may be advised to start sooner than age 50.

And above all else, if you are headed to the bathroom for your prep, make sure your mobile devices are all well charged.

Cynthia Floyd Manley is content strategist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and has more than 20 years’ experience writing about health, medicine and medical research. Her daughter is now 24.

Screening

If you are 50 or older and haven’t had a colonoscopy, now is a great time to do it. Vanderbilt Health’s team can help with any referral needed from your doctor.

Call 615-322-1881 to schedule an appointment.

8 thoughts on “The not-so-obvious benefits of a colonoscopy”

  1. Kim says:

    True, I agree I need one. cAN NOT afford it!!

  2. jan c. says:

    So glad I did this! They found and removed 3 pre-cancerous polyps. I’ll go back in three years and glad to do so. If I’d put it off, the results could have been bad.

  3. Rebecca says:

    Yes everyone should have routine exams. My brother is fighting colon cancer now. And even though he had routine exams, his was Stage 4 cancer when found last September but he is going to beat this evil cancer!

  4. Maggie Allen says:

    It’s so good to know that colonoscopies aren’t too bad. I’ve been a little nervous about getting mine when I turn 50 in a few months, but your post definitely helped me feel much less anxious. If the prep really was the worst part, then I don’t think I’ll have much of a problem with this at all! I just love watching TV shows, so I’ll definitely be sure to capitalize on that. Now I just need to find a doctor to perform the procedure!

  5. Ridley Fitzgerald says:

    There are some great benefits to getting a colonoscopy! Of course, there are the obvious health benefits, but I had never thought about how delicious that first nap would be. Or how great that first meal would be either.

    1. My Southern Health says:

      It’s the little things! – Cynthia

  6. Tomas Killington says:

    My dad is getting older. My family and I have been telling him that it’s time for him to get a colonoscopy, but he’s been hesitant. I didn’t realize that colon cancer is the third most common cancer, and it is the second highest cause of death among cancer types. That is something that will definitely motivate him to get the exam done.

  7. Kourtney Jensen says:

    Benefits that probably stand out the most to anyone about a colonoscopy is that you are able to detect cancer as well as determine any stomach disease. I’ve had friends with severe intestinal problems and sought help from a stomach doctor who was able to relieve them of the pain. I’ll be sure to pass this information on to my parents who are higher in age to make sure they are doing p roper recommended screenings.

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