Health Team

Fear of Unknown Often Keeps People Away From Colonoscopy

Posted March 28, 2007

— The early stages of colon cancer show no symptoms. When symptoms appear, it is usually in an advanced stage and possibly spreading to other parts of the body, which is why getting the recommended screening is so important. However, many people do not get the screening due to fear of the unknown.

Robert Higgins, 54, had a colonoscopy early in 2006, so he knows the easy part is the actual procedure. A strong medication and sedative can make it painless.

"Between the two medications, most patients don't even remember the test," said Dr. Martin Poleski, a gastroenterologist with Duke University Medical Center.

It was the 24 hours of preparation that was a bit tougher for Higgins, who also has Parkinson's disease.

"Yes, (it is) a challenge for him because it's hard for him not to eat," said Jacqueline Higgins, Robert's wife.

"That was kind of hard, because I never fasted before," said Robert Higgins.

Poleski said patients can only consume clear liquids 24 hours before the procedure. Patients are also given a series of laxatives to further clear the colon of any stool that might block the doctor's view.

Poleski said for most patients, the worst part of the procedure is cleaning themselves out.

"It's a little uncomfortable, as you can imagine," he said.

However, Higgins said the results were worth the short inconvenience. He had polyps—small growths that could become cancerous. On a follow-up exam, Poleski found a few more new growths, which he removed with tiny forceps at the camera end of the colonoscope.

Poleski said polyps grow like mushrooms on the wall of the colon. They begin looking like small pale bumps, which he found in Higgins'  ascending colon. The small bleeding from the polyp removal will heal quickly and the tissue will be tested.

"By picking off these polyps—by removing them—we are actually doing more than just finding cancer. We're actually preventing cancer," Poleski said.

Otherwise, Higgins' colon is clean, which is one less thing for him and his wife to worry about.

"I'm glad that we did it and we found out ahead of time that he had polyps and we removed them before they became a problem," said Jacequeline Higgins, who also had a colonoscopy after her husband's first procedure last year.

Colorectal cancer is the third-most-common cancer and the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

For most people, age 50 is the time to schedule a colonoscopy. African-Americans are at higher risk, so they may consider screening beginning at age 45. A third group is those people with a strong family history of colorectal cancer. They should consider screening at least 10 years earlier than their family member was diagnosed.

For information about new medication options to standard fluid intake in preparation for colonoscopy is avaiable at:


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  • QT3.14 Apr 4, 2007

    Very thoughtful questions. Remember the life expectancy back in the 1700s was not nearly as long as it is now. Plus they didn't *know* what cancer was. Just my thoughts...

    "Get a clue" said:
    Do you think they had these cancer issues back in the 1700's? They had lots of medical illnesses, but why is cancer so out of control today? I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

  • Nurse on the run Apr 4, 2007

    NCLover ... ALWAYS make sure you get prior authorization before you proceed with any procedure... also if your insurance company denied you have a right to file an appeal. Check with your carrier for their appeal process... stick with it... you probably will win!!!

  • nc lover Apr 4, 2007

    I'm at the age now where I have had my Second Colonoscopy and
    it is not that bad. The pain Killers are indeed the best part and it only takes a few minutes for the procedure. I have a probem with Pulup's (correct spelling?) and if gone un-treated they can turn into Cancer. Unfortunetly, my last procedure was not covered under my new insurance plan with Blue Cross. They did not pay a penney. Cost me nearly $2500.00 Doctor and Hospital included.

  • Midnight Nurse Apr 3, 2007

    I disagree that insurance companies dont want to pay for them. I work for a very well known insurance company as a Nurse and we ENCOURAGE members to have this done....always remember and ounce of prevention is sometimes worth a ton of cure!!..and sometimes there is no cure!!!

  • southrnarchitect Apr 3, 2007

    I had this done 6 years ago at age 41. They found 3 benign polyps which they removed. That's the only pain I remember, them being cut out. Dr. said I hit him. Due back soon for another on.

  • Low Voltage Apr 3, 2007

    pms50, you wrote my script. Drinking that gallon of liquid was not cool but the procedure was great. That pain killer is some good stuff.

  • Warden Apr 2, 2007

    dogluver, you're singing a familiar song. Years ago, they put me under, assuring me that I had double the amount that was normal, and the whole thing became a nightmare. Right in the middle of the procedure, the pain was so intense I woke up and started bellowing. I was really put off by it.

    However, nine months ago, my religious mentor died young of colorectal cancer. Only 48 years old, three kids and a new grandchild on the way. By the time the test had been done, it was far, far too late. And for that reason, I still beg people to have this distasteful test done. I'll be doing it again before long.

  • spottswood Apr 1, 2007

    i have had 2 operations polyps both times now on 3 year cycle. va hosp.last time, preprep was pc cake i was awake and looking at my a.. on tv the whole time not pretty, but absolutely no pain no discomfort as all have said a pc of c ake. please have it done & save a life(your life) please, please dco it. spot

  • vbates Apr 1, 2007


  • BLOCKHEAD Apr 1, 2007

    Way back in the olden days many people just died of "Natural Causes". More cancer or just more cancer customers ?? Makes you wonder why so many people and animals are riddled with this horrible disease. Genetic mutation or man made??? One can only wonder !!!