By Gastroenterologist Mike Bismar, MD
More than 1 in 20 Americans will develop colon cancer during their lifetime. Unlike many cancers, however, colon cancer is preventable.
Colonoscopy, the gold standard in colon cancer prevention, is a simple procedure compared to the emotional and physical turmoil of dealing with colon cancer. This test is necessary for patients at 50, or younger if they have a family history of colon cancer. Colon evaluation has become easier and better than ever because of recent improvements in preparation, anesthesia and techniques.
I have practiced gastroenterology for more than ten years, and the biggest complaint my patients had about their colonoscopies was the preparation--drinking a gallon of liquid with an unpleasant taste. Now, the volume of medicine is much smaller and split into an evening and morning dose. Plus, the flavor has improved too. The new preparations usually provide excellent cleaning to the colon which in turn improves the rate of finding polyps.
Another recent improvement is the type of anesthesia. In the past, gastroenterologists administered conscious sedation to their patients, who could still experience discomfort, even to the point of stopping the procedure before it was complete. Now, an anesthesia team administers deep sedation. This makes the procedure truly painless. The gastroenterologist can focus entirely on the colon and spend the necessary time looking for pathology.
At Texas Health Huguley Hospital’s endoscopy suite, we have recently added high-definition monitors to improve our ability to detect and remove every polyp. In addition, Endocuff, a state-of-the-art technology, is available to enhance visualization of hidden areas behind folds.
Although colonoscopies have improved in quality and comfort in the last five years, some patients are still reluctant to schedule the screening.
For example, I recently saw a 57-year-old man whose wife brought him in because he had rectal bleeding for two years. He assumed it was hemorrhoids, but a colonoscopy revealed a large mass requiring surgery and chemotherapy. An earlier colonoscopy could have removed the polyp in a precancerous state.
On the other hand, a man came in for his first colonoscopy at the age of 42 because his mother was diagnosed with colon cancer in her 50s. During the procedure, I found a large polyp and removed it before becoming colon cancer.
Colonoscopies have improved significantly in the last five years. With March being National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month, now is the best time to schedule your appointment if you are due for a colonoscopy. Mike Bismar, MD, is the medical director of gastroenterology at Texas Health Huguley Hospital Fort Worth South and the founder of the Gastroenterology Center at Texas Health Huguley. His office may be reached at 817-551-6161.