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As appears in: Montclair Local
This series will be written by practitioners in Summit Medical Group (SMG) on health-related topics. This month’s author is gastroenterologist, Dr. John Imbesi, who practices at SMG in Glen Ridge. He enjoys helping patients with difficult diseases find relief. Dr. Imbesi plans to schedule his colonoscopy when he turns 50.
As a gastroenterologist, and a man approaching his 50s, both my patients and peers ask me the same question: Do I really need to get a colonoscopy? Regardless of whether I am answering as a doctor or friend, my answer is always the same: yes!
For decades, colonoscopy has been the gold standard for diagnosing and preventing colorectal cancer—the second-leading cause of cancer-related death in men and women. Not only does the procedure help us find and treat cancer early, it also allows us to remove growths in the colon or rectum called polyps that can become cancerous over time.
These unsettling polyps are fairly common. On a first colonoscopy, I will find a polyp in about 35 percent of patients. And there is a good chance that the larger polyps will cause trouble in another three to five years if they are not removed.
The facts are clear. Colonoscopies save lives. So why do I find myself spending so much time convincing my patients and friends alike to get checked? Here are some common hurdles I hear and why they should not stop you from scheduling your procedure today.
1. I’m very healthy—I do not have a primary care doc who can clear me for a colonoscopy.
If you are a healthy 50-something year old man or woman you do not need a referral from a primary care physician. Summit Medical Group offers what is known as a direct access colonoscopy. This means that individuals over age 50 without significant medical history can skip the pre-procedure visit. To find out if you are eligible for direct access, submit a request form online. A nurse will call you within a few days to discuss your case, explain pre-procedure instructions, and schedule an appointment.
2. There is no way I can miss a day of work.
SMG gastroenterologists offer convenient Saturday appointments. You can start the prep Friday when you get home from work, have the procedure on Saturday morning, and be back in action by Sunday.
3. The prep sounds miserable.
The rumors are true: Preparing for a colonoscopy is harder than the procedure itself. But the truth is the evening before is not as bad as you might think, and it has become much more pleasant. Patients used to have to drink a large volume of foul-tasting liquid. Today, the solution is simply a mixture of flavored Gatorade and laxatives. Sure, you will need to run to the bathroom quite a few times, but isn’t one night of inconvenience worth a lifetime of good health?
4. I’m worried the procedure will hurt.
A colonoscopy is not uncomfortable, and you will not feel sore afterwards. Patients are sedated by a trained anesthesiologist and have no memory of the procedure. They often wake up and tell me it is the best sleep they have had in a while!
5. I do not want to pay for a test when nothing is wrong with me.
Colonoscopy is one of the few procedures that are almost universally covered by insurance companies beginning at age 50. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer or are an African American male you should be screened earlier. According to the National Cancer Institute, colorectal cancer incidence and mortality are highest among African Americans compared with other racial/ethnic groups, and African American 5-year survival rates are the lowest.
I plan to be screened when I turn 50. Until then, a diet that is high in fiber and low in fat can help reduce my risk of developing colorectal cancer. The best medicine is always prevention.