Common misconceptions about colonoscopies

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. They estimate that the number of new colorectal cancer cases in the United States for 2019 will be 101,420. They also expect about 51,020 deaths from the disease in 2019. However, the five-year survival rate is more than 90 percent when found and treated early. 

“The best way to prevent colon cancer mortality is to have a screening colonoscopy,” said Martin Beerman, MD, gastroenterologist at Firelands Regional Medical Center. “The American Cancer Society recommends that adults age 45 and older have a screening colonoscopy every 10 years, or more frequently in patients who have had polyps removed, a family history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer, certain genetic syndromes or other related risks.” 


While March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month, we want you to feel comfortable getting a colonoscopy anytime of the year. Therefore, below are some answers to commonly asked questions and misconceptions about colonoscopies.

What is a colonoscopy?

Colonoscopies show the inside of the rectum and the entire length of the colon. They are the first line of defense for finding polyps and colon cancer. Before the procedure, the doctor will prescribe a colonoscopy preparation. While different types exist, the goal is to have an empty colon so that a doctor can view it clearly. Then, once at the doctor’s office, the patient is sedated and a thin, flexible colonoscope is inserted into the lower gastrointestinal tract. A camera attached to the end of the scope allows the doctor to check for polyps. If something abnormal is detected, it can be removed or biopsied during the screening. The process takes about four hours, including the time a patient spends in recovery.

I’ve heard the prep process for a colonoscopy is awful. Is that true?

No – it isn’t awful. Yes, you do have to empty your colon, but the cleansing process begins just 24 hours prior to your colonoscopy appointment, and you will receive detailed instructions from your physician to ensure the process is gentle on your body.

Is the procedure itself painful?

Again, the answer is no. Prior to the procedure, patients are sedated. In fact, nearly 100 percent of patients are asleep through the entire process and wake up with no memory of the experience. If you are worried about discomfort, discuss your concerns with your physician prior to your screening. Together, you can work out a plan that will best address your needs.

Are there any risks associated with getting a colonoscopy?

No, a colonoscopy is a very safe procedure and the benefit of a colonoscopy far outweighs the minimal risk. 

Are men, or women, more effected by colon cancer?

Men and women are equally at risk when it comes to colon cancer. 

I live a healthy lifestyle and do not have a family history of colon cancer. Do I really need a colonoscopy? 

Yes. While living a healthy lifestyle reduces your risk for colon cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends every individual undergo colorectal cancer screening starting at age 45, or sooner if there is family history.

I am not comfortable with such an invasive procedure, and they are embarrassing!

While a colonoscopy probably isn’t on your bucket list, the benefits far outweigh a few moments of unease. If you feel embarrassed, it helps to remember that physicians perform thousands of colonoscopies a year; they understand that some patients are uncomfortable with the invasiveness of the procedure, which is why they do everything they can to ensure a modest, respectful and comfortable experience. Remember that the physician performing your colonoscopy chose to practice this type of medicine because he or she is passionate about detecting cancer earlier enough to save lives – including yours! 

What can I do to reduce my risk of colon cancer?

Eating a high fiber diet, avoiding tobacco products, consistent exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are all clinically proven to reduce your risk of colon cancer. However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle does not excuse you from being screened – a colonoscopy is the only way to guarantee that you are cancer-free.

Firelands is here to help

Did you know that most patients do not need a doctor’s order for a colonoscopy? Firelands Physician Group has a number of gastroenterologists on staff ready to meet with you and answer any questions you may have. Contact the office to see if you need a referral from your primary care physician, or not: 419-627-0207

Office of Dr. Martin Beerman, Dr. Lawrence McCormack & Dr. David Hykes

703 Tyler Street, Suite 151
Phone: 419-627-0207