Digestive | Prevention
January 24, 2019

The not-so-obvious benefits of a colonoscopy


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. (The American Cancer Society in 2018 changed that recommendation to 45.)

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 a colonoscopy:

  • 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, then 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 more 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.

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 the recommended age.

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.


If you are 45 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.

Learn more

30 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.

  8. Winifred says:

    It give me a little understanding of having the colon test done I wonder one thing tho how soon do you get the results is it two weeks after the test or is it right away

  9. Kylie Dotts says:

    I love how you said that one of the benefits of a colonoscopy is that your tummy was flat and that your skinny jeans fit really well! My husband has been putting on a bit of weight over the last few years, but he hasn’t gone into check on any potential cancer areas. Maybe I’ll have to use a colonoscopy as an excuse to get him started on a diet.

  10. Mel says:

    Thank you for these surprising perks! I’m having my first at 36 due to problems, and was looking for an article like this to help me look at it more positively.

    1. Cynthia Floyd Manley (@CynthiaManley) says:

      Thanks for the comment. Hope all goes well and it provides positive answers!

  11. Hazel Owens says:

    That’s good to know that colon cancer is the third most common cancer for men and women and that it’s the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. My husband and I are getting older so I wanted to see what we should do to make sure we’re healthy. We’ll have to set up a colonoscopy with a gastroenterologist soon so we can make sure we don’t have cancer and if we do we can catch it early and take care of it. https://templehillsgastro.com/physicians-and-services

    1. Maura Ammenheuser says:

      We wish you both strong health!

  12. Sharon Payne says:

    I was having colon and stomach issues, and had a colonoscopy. The Dr said I was red inside and may have had food poisoning. After a couple of more episodes, the Dr said, you probably have irritable bowel syndrome . I requested additional testing. Finally I had an endoscopy with a biopsy of my stomach. It was tested with the red Congo stain, and positive for Amyloidosis. It was not cancer, but Amyloidosis.
    All doctors and patients need to be aware of this disease that can attack your organs. The doctors need to be thinking outside of the box instead of just routine.
    If they will just test the protein levels. This should be standard testing. If the levels are high, they should think to test for Amyloidosis.
    This is a disease that is not being diagnosed properly.
    I am sharing my story to promote awareness of Amyloidosis, to promote proper diagnosis of it, and to get early treatment for it.
    Thank you,
    Sharon P

    1. Maura Ammenheuser says:

      Thank you for sharing this information, Sharon, and we hope you are doing better now.

  13. Linda Hailey says:

    I had a clean colon screening in Jan of 2016. In Aug I began to notice a change in my stool and called my dr. She scheduled a colonoscopy and my result was colon cancer. Oct surgery removed app 14 inches of my colon. I went home 2 days after surgery, took 3 or 4 Tylonols and took a short motorcycle ride 5 days post surgery. I say all this to try to relieve fear in someone who is procrastinating a colonoscopy. Please get it done! It might save your life. Thank you Vandy staff.

    1. Maura Ammenheuser says:

      Linda, I’m so glad to hear you are recovering well. You were smart to get another colonoscopy when you noticed symptoms. Thank you for sharing your story — hope it offers encouragement to others!

  14. Pamela shands says:

    What’s the appropriate weight loss

    1. Maura Ammenheuser says:

      Pamela, it’s typical to lose a small amount of weight thanks to a colonoscopy, but it’s temporary. If you’re looking for a more specific answer, you should ask your doctor what’s appropriate for you.

  15. Will says:

    I had my second colonoscopy in Feb 2019. I am good for 5 years. Smart thing to do. The worst is not eating for 24 hours. The nap after is great. Go and have a good healthy breakfast after the test.


  16. kathy hughes says:

    My 3rd colonoscopy in 16 years is scheduled today at 1pm. With family history I go every 6 years, so far all clean. Also highly recommend starting prep 5 days prior by eliminating red meat high fiber foods, no seeds, nuts, fuit with skin,dried fruit. Day before no solids at all. I am ready to roll!!

    1. Maura Ammenheuser says:

      You sound like a seasoned pro. We hope your procedure went smoothly!

  17. Steele Honda says:

    I like that you said that one of the benefits of getting a colonoscopy was that you had the best nap of your life. I am trying to convince my dad to go see and gastroenterologist to have a colonoscopy done because he’s getting older. I’ll have to let him know that he’ll be healthier and get a good nap out of it if he goes.

    1. Maura Ammenheuser says:

      Good luck coaxing your dad! We know people are reluctant to get this important screening. Once he’s past the prep stage, it’s really not so bad. And yes, the nap afterward is a great reward.

  18. Adrian Jones says:

    I didn’t know that getting a colonoscopy treatment actually involved not having to eat anything for at least a day in order to make sure that the colon is ready for testing was actually true. I’ve been trying to prepare myself for a colonoscopy treatment in a few days, and the fact that you can’t eat so much food until the procedure is what’s tripping me out about it. Hopefully, after this is done I could eat all the food I want… it’s really terrifying if you’re going into this and you’re hungry to all heck.

    1. Maura Ammenheuser says:

      Many colonoscopies are scheduled for the morning. You’ll likely need to drink a prep solution the day before, while abstaining from solid food for a certain number of hours before your colonoscopy. Having a morning appointment is helpful because you don’t have to go that full day without eating. Ask your doctor what timing is possible for your appointment, and be sure to read any pre-procedure instructions carefully. It’s important to go into the procedure with an empty colon. Good luck — and you’re smart to get this important screening procedure.

  19. Sandra Patterson says:

    Thanks for the article!

  20. Sandra Patterson says:

    Wow, I had no idea that when you undergo a colonoscopy you are way lighter, which is a great way to start a weight loss plan. My mom is going to get a colonoscopy done soon to check for colon cancer. Maybe if I forward this article to her she will be able to have a good idea about what to expect and maybe even look forward to it!

  21. Amy Winters says:

    I love that you talked about after having a colonoscopy there was a moment where you realized your daughter could tease you about the conversations you had because you had been sedated. I remember when I was younger, and my brother teased me after I had knee surgery about the things I was saying. It’s funny how the little things like this can create great memories later for everyone who was there. It’s great that seeing a stomach doctor helped you and your daughter have another moment in time where you can laugh. Thank you for sharing such a great experience.

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