Colonoscopy screenings: Hear the myths, get the facts (w/VIDEO)

March 24, 2014 | by

Colonoscopy may not be the most pleasant of procedures, but it is one that can save your life.

According to the National Cancer Institute, getting colonoscopies at recommended intervals (for most people, this means starting at age 50 and every 10 years thereafter if the results are normal) can reduce colorectal cancer deaths by up to 70 percent. This is possible because the procedure can catch the cancer in its earlier stages, when it's more treatable. Additionally, colonoscopies can detect and remove precancerous growths called polyps before they become malignant.

Despite the proven benefits, many people still put off getting a colonoscopy. Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 40 percent of Americans are not getting screened for colorectal cancer in accordance to recommended guidelines.

And according to Donald David, M.D., clinical professor and chief at City of Hope's Division of Gastroenterology, many reasons people have for delaying or avoiding this lifesaving test are pure myths.

In the video above, David debunks some of the common misperceptions about colonoscopies, including:

  • "I do not need the test until I have symptoms." David said that colorectal cancer in its early stages often exhibits no symptoms, and by the time symptoms (such as bowel habit changes and blood in the stool) show, the cancer may have already progressed to an advanced, less treatable stage.
  • "The procedure is painful." Patients are sedated prior to the colonoscopies and most do not even remember having gone through it, David said. He added that the most unpleasant part is usually the preparation one to two days prior to the procedure, which includes taking a laxative solution to clear the colon.
  • "Colonoscopies are costly." Most insured patients, including those on Medicare, should have little to no co-pays for colonoscopies since they are routine screening procedures that have been shown to save lives and health care costs further down the line, David said.
  • "I am a woman and therefore less likely to get colorectal cancer and need screenings." David pointed out that new statistics show that men and women are equally likely to get colon cancer, and men are only at a slightly higher risk of getting rectal cancer.

To find out more about colorectal cancer screenings, research and treatment at City of Hope, visit our colorectal cancer page or watch "Ask The Experts: Colon Health" featuring David and Marwan Fakih, M.D., co-director at City of Hope's Gastrointestinal Cancer Program, and Steven Sentovich, M.D., M.B.A., clinical professor at City of Hope's Department of Surgery.