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We Don’t Talk About Poop, No, No, No.

by Nurse Jill

Part 4 in a series about the factors that negatively impact your health the most: information to help you stay on the path to health successes in 2024.

Just like all the characters in Disney’s Encanto shying away from talking about Bruno (no, no, no), we Americans tend to shy away from conversations about poop and the organ that poop comes from.

Nobody wants to do it but talking about colon screening is one thing that can literally save your life. In fact, different studies have been done showing the effectiveness of this one dreaded event in decreasing your overall risk of not only getting a certain cancer but of death from that cancer.

Colorectal cancer that is. According to the American Cancer Society, is the third most common cancer diagnosed in men and women. Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 23 for men and 1 in 25 for women. Obviously some individuals may have a higher risk due to lifestyle or family history. The CDC pinned colorectal cancer in 2018 as the second leading cause of cancer death among cancers that affect both men and women.

And the dreaded event that decreases both your risk of getting colorectal cancer and advancing to terminal cancer is a colonoscopy. I can hear your internal groaning.

But when we’re talking about health successes and habits to improve your health, this is a sure bet. And it takes only a couple of days of commitment rather than a daily or weekly ritual.

Here’s the deal. If you do end up being the 1 in 20 or so people to get colorectal cancer this year but don’t undergo a colonoscopy to find it then that cancer just keeps growing and does so silently. By the time you have symptoms enough to force you to the doctor with complaints, that cancer will likely have grown to a size where you need surgery, radiation, chemo, and possibly even an ostomy bag that catches your stool on the outside of your abdomen. Not only is this scary and a physical/emotional burden but is extremely expensive in medical costs as well as time away from work.

If you get your colonoscopy screening done early then a cancer that in 10 years would threaten your quality (and quantity) of life, it can literally be removed by a small little snip during the procedure. The small little procedure to get a polyp removed is far better than the surgery and radiation route in every single way.

When the physician does the colonoscopy s/he inserts a long flexible camera into your rectum and threads it through your colon to look for polyps which are the precursor to cancer. These polyps are what grow into large tumors requiring invasive surgery.

When the physician finds these s/he snips them off and cancer is nipped in the bud. Think about dandelions in your yard. When you find one happily growing in your lawn and let it be, you soon have a very large patch. Wouldn’t you agree, if you plucked that first plant before it bloomed, you would have a beautiful lawn.

The procedure itself can be uncomfortable but not usually painful, though cramping can occur. Nowadays though patients are offered anesthesia services to help them sleep through the entire thing. Most patients wake up aware only of the great nap they’ve just had.

What about the prep? This is the worst part about getting a colonoscopy. It would be really difficult to see polyps in the colon if the colon was full of poo… so you must clean out your colon to facilitate visualization for your doctor.

Your specific doctor will give you individualized instructions for your prep but usually it consists of a low residue diet (no ruffage like uncooked vegetables) for a few days, then one day of only clear liquids, and then about 12 hours of actively clearing out your colon which is initiated by a drink ingested the afternoon (or evening) before your procedure. The day of clear liquids and medically induced diarrhea can be uncomfortable but most patients tolerate it fine and the payout is worth it. The key is to plan ahead. Read all the instructions and get what you need before you start.

It is not glamorous to talk about poop and colonoscopies. But giving up two days to a finely tuned process to screen and nip cancer you will be actively and effectively preventing cancer. Up to 40% of people who get colonoscopy have polyps found and treated. Even if you come away with no polyps found, you can rest easy that you’ve done your part.

Whatever excuse you have it pales in comparison to the days, weeks, months, maybe even years of strife if you don’t catch the cancer now. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors and when you can get a colonoscopy completed. Colonoscopies are a marvelous prevention tool but only if you get one.


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