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Debunking the myths surrounding colonoscopies

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In partnership with Fox45 Baltimore

April 23, 2021
This year, the American Cancer Society lowered the colorectal cancer screening age recommendation from 50 to 45 to help save more lives.

Joseph DiRocco, M.D., Medical Director of GI Oncology at GBMC, says, "Colonoscopies can prevent cancer by identifying colorectal cancer when it's small and by finding and removing polyps [pre-cancerous growths]."

But even with information on the benefits of colonoscopies readily available, myths surrounding the procedure still exist.

1. I don't need a colonoscopy if I don't have symptoms.

"Most people who are found to have colon cancer have no symptoms," Dr. DiRocco says. He explains cancer or polyps are usually found during a colonoscopy screening before the patient shows any signs of illness. "By the time people have noticeable symptoms, the cancer is more advanced. Don't wait to get screened."

2. The prep for a colonoscopy is horrible.

There's no getting around the fact that the point of colonoscopy prep is to clean out your colon, but Dr. DiRocco explains there are now several options available for patients. "There are preps that are low-volume [having to drink 32 ounces or less], pills you can take, better-tasting liquids. Depending on what you hate the most about the prep, we can avoid that." He reiterates the benefits of screening far outweigh the one day of inconvenience leading up to the procedure.

3. A colonoscopy is painful.

Dr. DiRocco says this is definitely not true. "It's very unusual for people to have pain during or after a colonoscopy." 99% of colonoscopies performed in the U.S. are performed under sedation or general anesthesia, and the most common complaint after a procedure is cramping or bloating because of air used by the doctor to inflate your colon. After the procedure, gas may need to work its way out of your colon, which can cause some discomfort after the procedure.

4. I'm a woman and less likely to get colon cancer.

While Dr. DiRocco confirms men are at a slightly higher risk for colon cancer than women, he says, "The difference in colorectal cancer rates between men and women is minuscule. It affects them equally." 1 in 24 women will be diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer at some point in her life.

5. My colonoscopy can wait until after the pandemic.

Dr. DiRocco says the risk of contracting COVID-19 is not a reason to put off getting a colonoscopy. "Many health professionals are vaccinated. We practice handwashing and mask-wearing, and we have social distancing protocols in place, as well as frequent cleanings." He adds, "If you choose to wait to get screened and it turns out you do have cancer, there's a much greater risk that it could be past the point of being treatable or curable." He encourages anyone who's at risk or within the recommended screening guidelines to stay on top of their scheduled screenings.

For more information about scheduling a colonoscopy or colorectal cancer treatment, visit www.gbmc.org/gi-oncology.
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