Study Confirms that Colonoscopy Reduces Death Rate

This article from the NY Times describes the results of a 20 year study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, which confirms that the death rate from colorectal cancer was cut over 50% in those who had a colonoscopy and whose doctors removed precancerous polyps.  Previously, it was assumed that removing precancerous polyps would improve survival; this is the first major study that proves it.  Another study found that, in the US, mortality due to colorectal cancer has also declined, especially in areas of the country where screening has increased.  Early colon screening seems like a great idea, especially for those at risk due to known or unknown family medical history.

The colorectal cancer mortality rate in the US has fallen about 3% a year since 2003, from 19 deaths per 100,000 people to 9.9 deaths per 100,000 in 2008. During that same time, the percentage of people who received colorectal cancer screening rose from 52% in 2002 to 65.4% in 2010.

My First Colonoscopy – What to Expect?

When preparing for my first colonoscopy, I didn’t know what to expect.  It turned out to be much easier than I expected, and definitely worth peace of mind when it confirmed a clean bill of health.

I had the procedure even though I am not yet at the age when the test is recommended. Since my father’s and his family’s medical history is unknown, my doctor recommended that I get my first colonoscopy early rather than wait until I hit 50. My insurer would cover this test even though they usually don’t for those under age 50, but said that I would be liable for a large portion of the cost for treatment if any cancer or other issues were discovered as a result. Although it was a gamble, I decided that I would rather deal with polyps or growths now rather than wait.  I won’t have to get another one for about 5-10 years.

Colonoscopy Prep – Halflytely

The prep wasn’t as bad as I expected or was led to believe.  I was given a prescription for the bowel prep kit Halflytely, which contains a ‘stimulant laxative‘ that cleans out your intestines so the doctor can get a clear view of everything.  You take it a day before the procedure, and eat a very limited diet while on it. While everyone warned me about the taste,  the Halflytely box now contains flavor packets to make it more palatable (I recommend the lemon/lime flavor). The instructions I was given for prep day included:

  • Eat lightly the day before.
  • Do not eat at all the day that you take it.
  • Drink the entire Halflytely product per the instructions on the box.
  • Eat only jello, lightly colored liquids, etc. as instructed.
  • Do not eat or drink anything the day of the procedure.

I misunderstood the instructions and ate breakfast on the day I was supposed to start the laxative routine. I checked with my doctor who said that it was OK, and had me start the Halflytely a few hours earlier in the day than I would have.

Colonoscopy Procedure

I was knocked out for the actual procedure, which took about 20 minutes.  The proctologist checked my prostate and then examined my colon (or ‘lower GI’) using a colonoscope.  Since I had been under anesthesia, the doctor required that my wife meet me and make sure I got home.

(Photo: A Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from Jason Meredith‘s photo stream); Chart: National Cancer Institute)