As I have mentioned before, bowel cancer runs in the
paternal side of my family. My dad has regular colonoscopies to check that he
is ok and I am fast approaching the age where I will start having them too.
I have decided to try and break down some of the
stigma attached to colonoscopies by researching them. A colonoscopy isn't appropriate for everyone but I hope this blog post persuades people to have
them should they need to as it is the most effective way of diagnosing bowel
cancer, as well as the presence of any bowel polyps, and as I like to drum into
your heads, EARLY DIAGNOSIS IS KEY!
A colonoscopy is usually performed in the outpatients
department of a hospital and the procedure itself usually lasts around an hour.
The bowel needs to be completely empty for the colonoscopy so the patient will
need to follow a very careful diet for a few days before the test. Laxatives
may also be needed and may be prescribed. The department carrying out the
procedure will give you careful instructions regarding your diet and laxatives.
It may be possible for you to have a sedative to
relax you a little before the procedure. You will be told to lie on your side
whilst the nurse or doctor passes a thin flexible tube called a colonoscope
into your back passage. There are flexible fibres in the tube which pass around
the bowel easily. There is a light and camera on the end of the tube and these
show any abnormal areas of the bowel.
It may be that photographs and biopsies of the cells
in the large bowel are taken during the colonoscopy. Usually any polyps can be
removed using a wire loop that is passed through the colonoscope. This can be
done painlessly normally.
Sometimes the whole bowel can’t be seen during the
colonoscopy. This may be due to the bowel not being completely empty or because
the colonoscopy can’t get round a bend in the bowel or reach the end of t. You
may be asked to have a repeat or a CT colonoscopy in this situation.
A COLONOSCOPY CAN BE UNCOMFORTABLE BUT A SEDATIVE
WILL HELP YOU RELAX.
Most patients are ready to go home within a few
hours of the test but someone will need to come and collect you, especially if
you have had a sedative. Someone should be around to keep an eye on you for
around twelve hours after the procedure.
Usually a colonscopy is a fairly straightforward
procedure and patients do not have any side effects. However, very rare side
effects do include:
*Fluid Loss – Taking laxatives may cause you to lose
lots of fluids as you are visiting the toilet frequently. It is important to
let the people carrying out your colonoscopy know if you have any heart
problems before taking laxatives as this can worsen your condition.
*Breathing or Heart Problems – You may have a
reaction to the laxatives which may cause you to have temporary problems
breathing or temporary problems with your heart.
*Heavy Bleeding – Around 1/150 people having a
colonoscopy suffer from heavy bleeding after the procedure. If biopsies are
taken or polyps are removed then there is a chance of bleeding. If you do
notice heavy bleeding then you should seek medical advice immediately.
*Perforated Bowel – The colonoscopy can VERY RARELY
make a hole in the bowel wall. This happens about 1/1000 but an operation may
need needed to mend the hole.
*Death – Around 1/10,000 people having a colonscopy
die as a result. A very very small percentage of those having the procedure.
The specialist performing your colonoscopy will let
you know if they take any biopsies or remove any polyps during your procedure.
The results of these can take up to three weeks, which can be a very anxious
time for you.
Possible results include:
*A Normal Result – this means no polyps or cancerous
cells were found in your bowel. About 50% of colonoscopies have a normal result
and it is rare that a colonoscopy will miss cancer. If your result is normal
then you will probably be offered screening every two years.
*Benign Polyps – If one or more polyps are found
during the procedure then they are usually all removed at the same time in a
procedure known as a polypectomy. This can help prevent bowel cancer
developing. Around 40% of people having colonoscopies following an abnormal FOB
test have polyps The removed polyps are studied in a lab and the next steps
are determined by the results. Polyps can sometimes reoccur after being
*Cancer – Around 10% of people having colonoscopies
after an abnormal FOB test are diagnosed with bowel cancer. That is 1/10. If
the cancer is found at an early stage then there is a very good chance of
survival as around 90% of early stage bowel cancer cases are successfully
*Other Benign Causes – Colonoscopies can also
indicate other conditions such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis and you
are usually referred to a gastroenterologist.
I hope this post has been informative for you and I hope it persuades at least one person to go and get a colonoscopy. Surely a few hours of discomfort is fair better then a potential battle with cancer?