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The Truth About Colonoscopies

02/28/2014 06:13 EST | Updated 04/30/2014 05:59 EDT

When was the last time you talked with your friends and family about your poop? At a young age, we are primed not to discuss our bowel habits. People are ashamed to take the extended bathroom break at work and even more so, discuss important topics like colon cancer screening. This has to change!

Colon cancer is currently the second leading cause of (non melanoma) cancer related deaths in Canada. It is also 90 % preventable if it is detected early. Although the current guidelines suggest that anyone over the age of 50 should be screened, only 30-35% of Canadians are being screened.

A colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure where the physician can see the lining of your colon and remove any precancerous growths called polyps. Even though this procedure can help prevent colon cancer, most are still apprehensive about the procedure. Here are some common myths about colonoscopy:

• Myth #1 -It will be painful

o Most facilities that perform colonoscopies offer some form of sedation. You will be comfortable and won't remember any of the discomfort that you may experience. After you may feel a bit bloated and have some gas pains, which will easily pass as you expel more air.

• Myth #2 -If I feel well, I do not need a colonoscopy

o A vast majority of colon cancers are found in patients who did not have significant symptoms. The current Canadian guidelines suggest that everyone over the age of 50 needs to be screened, even if you do not experience any symptoms. If there is a family history of colon cancer or polyps, you may require screening at a younger age.

• Myth #3 - The preparation will be horrible

o Your colon needs to be cleaned out for the colonoscopy. Patients say prep is usually worse than the procedure itself, but it really isn't horrible. Remember: the cleaner your colon, the better the physician can detect polyps, which is, after all, why you're there.

• Myth #4 -There is a higher complication rate if the procedure is done at an outpatient centre

o Fewer than 1 in a 1000 patients will experience any type of complications. The more common ones include bleeding, infection, a small tear through the bowel wall or reactions to the medication. These rates are not any different if they are done outside of a hospital. It is more important that you have your procedure done by a Royal College Certified physician who is skilled in colonoscopy.

• Myth #5 - If I eat a clean diet I am not going to get colon cancer

o Nothing replaces the need for timely colon cancer screening. While healthy eating is recommended, there is no solid evidence to suggest that this will prevent the development of colon cancer. We do know that smoking, obesity, as well as a diet higher in red meat is associated with an increase in colon cancer.

So there you have it. Colon cancer is preventable, treatable, and if found early enough, it can also be beatable. Remember to discuss colon cancer screening with your family doctor during your next visit. For more information, including symptoms to watch for check out www.gihc.ca.

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