A lifesaving colonoscopy is not as dreadful as you might think

While a colonoscopy sounds uncomfortable, it really isn’t. The procedure is safe and pain-free.

By Froedtert Pleasant Prairie Hospital

Healthy Connections is published by Froedtert Pleasant Prairie Hospital.

“Yuck!  I don’t want to think or talk about it!”  Some people feel that way. Of course, I understand. There is an “ick” factor to talking about colon and rectal exams. Nevertheless, the conversation can be lifesaving.” 

That’s Dr. Thomas Wagner, a board-certified gastroenterologist at Froedtert Pleasant Prairie Hospital.  

Dr. Thomas Wagner

Dr. Wagner is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating digestive system disorders. The digestive system includes the large intestine otherwise known as the colon.

Why is the “icky” conversation about colon and rectal exams so important?  Because colorectal cancer is a silent and sneaky killer. 

The American Cancer Society warns that by the end of 2022 there will have been 150,958 new cases of colorectal cancer cases reported in the United States. By the end of the year the disease will have taken the lives of nearly 53,000 men and women in the United States, making colorectal cancer our nation’s second most deadly cancer.

Now here’s some good news – sixty percent (60%) of those deaths are preventable through proper screening.

Proper screening for colorectal cancer is important because the cancer often grows – without warning.  Many patients have no symptoms. And if you wait for the warning signs to become unmistakable, it might be too late.

That’s why leading health organizations recommend colorectal cancer screening beginning at age 45. 

The best examination to detect and prevent colorectal cancer?  A colonoscopy.

Dr. Wagner explains:

A colonoscopy is the gold standard when it comes to screening for colorectal cancer. It’s the most reliable. While there are other screening methods, a colonoscopy is the only procedure that can both screen and prevent colorectal cancer.

During a colonoscopy, a long, flexible tube is inserted into the rectum. A tiny video camera at the tip of the tube allows the doctor to view the inside of the entire colon. 

To make sure your doctor gets a good view of your colon, you’ll need to empty it before the examination. The preparation takes longer than the colonoscopy itself. Preparing for a colonoscopy involves:

  • Following a special diet. You won’t be able to eat solid food the day before your exam and drinks will be limited to clear liquids.
  • Taking a laxative. Your doctor will prescribe a laxative. You’ll take the laxative the night before your colonoscopy.
  • Adjusting medications. If you take medications for diabetes, high blood pressure or heart problems or drugs with iron, your medications may be temporarily adjusted.

As they perform the colonoscopy, gastroenterologists like Dr. Wagner, look for polyps or cancer in the large intestine and rectum. They also watch for swollen and irritated tissues.

If polyps are found, the doctor will use the scope to remove those at the time of the exam. During the colonoscopy, the doctor can also take biopsies of any abnormal tissue.

Polyps and any abnormal tissue removed during the colonoscopy are then sent to a laboratory. The laboratory analyzes those polyps and that tissue to determine whether they are cancerous or precancerous.

If your condition requires further treatment, the doctor will discuss that with you. If not, your doctor will recommend when your next colonoscopy should be scheduled. 

It’s that simple. Dr. Wagner reassures us that the procedure isn’t as dreadful as it sounds:

“While a colonoscopy sounds uncomfortable, it really isn’t. The procedure is safe and pain-free. It poses few risks. Complications are rare. Patients are lightly sedated.  Their vital signs are watched throughout the procedure.  A whole team of care givers – the gastroenterologist, an anesthesiologist, a nurse, and a technician are at the patient’s side to ensure comfort and safety. Most of my patients are so comfortable they don’t even realize the procedure was completed.”

Dr. Wagner goes on to explain that patients need not worry about how much of their body is exposed during a colonoscopy.

“There is no reason to be embarrassed.  During the procedure patients wear a hospital gown.  A sheet supplies extra covering.”

From start to finish the screening takes somewhere between 30 and 40 minutes.

Dr. Wagner sums it up this way:

“While a colonoscopy finds and remove precancerous polyps, it is only part of the solution. Prevention is just as important. The best way to prevent colorectal cancer, is to consume a diet rich in vegetables and fiber and make a commitment to a vigorous exercise routine.”

That wasn’t so “icky” after all, was it?  A colonoscopy is all it takes to reduce your risk of colon cancer. 

To discuss the right time to schedule your colonoscopy, contact Dr. Wagner at (262) 653-5330.

Dr. Thomas Wagner and Gold Standard Colorectal Cancer Prevention at Froedtert Pleasant Prairie Hospital.

Another reason Froedtert Pleasant Prairie Hospital has become Southeast Wisconsin and Northern Illinois’ health care destination of choice.