June is Men’s Health month – a time of heightened awareness around preventable health problems and the early detection and treatment of diseases common in men. One such screening procedure is a colonoscopy – the most effective method of diagnosing colorectal cancer – the third most common kind of cancer.
Dr Jacques Badenhorst, a Gastroenterologist that practices from the Christian Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town says that colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men, as well as the third leading cause of cancer death in men. “However, colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable cancers with regular screenings called colonoscopies. Unfortunately, there are certain myths associated with colonoscopies that may make a man less inclined to schedule this necessary procedure.”
Dr Badenhorst provides a list of some of the common myths around colonoscopies:
Myth: Getting a colonoscopy is embarrassing.
Truth: “A colonoscopy is a common procedure. Doctors are professionally trained and treat the colon just like any other organ in the body. Although the procedure may seem invasive, it is a necessary step in the prevention of colorectal cancer.”
Myth: The prep work for a colonoscopy is daunting.
Truth: “Prepping for a colonoscopy includes adopting a liquid diet the day before the procedure and drinking a liquid laxative that your doctor will give you to empty the colon,” explains Dr Badenhorst. “It is as simple as that.”
Myth: The procedure will hurt.
Truth: Dr Badenhorst advises that patients are given sedation and that about 95% of patients sleep through the procedure and wake up with no memory of the procedure. The other 5% of patients experience some mild discomfort and cramping. “The cramping is comparable to the urge to have a bowel movement.”
Myth: Colonoscopies don’t prevent colorectal cancer, so what’s the point?
Truth: During colonoscopies, doctors remove any polyps, an abnormal growth found on the lining of the large intestine, preventing them from becoming cancerous. “Polyps are typically non-cancerous and it takes about 10 to 15 years for polyps to become cancerous. Colonoscopies remove them before they have a chance to develop into cancer.”
Myth: Everyone should get screened at the same age.
Truth: Men should start getting screened from the age of 50. “There are many other reasons men should get screened at an earlier or more frequent basis,” says Dr Badenhorst. “Men with a personal or family history of polyps or colorectal cancer should talk to their doctor about starting colon screenings at an earlier age. Also, men who have a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease should also discuss the possibility of more frequent screenings or screenings at an earlier age.”
Myth: I should only get screened after symptoms occur.
Truth: According to Dr Badenhorst, the vast majority of colorectal cancers are found in patients who did not have any pain or other symptoms. “Many people experience no symptoms in the early stages of colorectal cancer – making it even more important to get screenings despite the lack of symptoms.
Myth: I don’t have a family history of colorectal cancer, so I don’t need to get screened.
Truth: “Everyone is at risk of developing the disease. One in 20 people will develop colorectal cancer, regardless of their family history.”
Myth: There will be complications.
Truth: “The risk of complications during a colonoscopy is very low,” says Dr Badenhorst. “Colonoscopies are performed by expert gastroenterologists who specialize in this procedure.”
Colonoscopies can prevent colorectal cancer and the risks of not having one far outweigh the misguided worries associated with the procedure. “Don’t let misconceptions stand in the way of your health. Contact your health care provider and request a referral for a colonoscopy.”
Dr Badenhorst concludes by urging South African men to go for colorectal cancer screening if they have any symptoms worrying them, fall within any of the high risk groups or are over 50.