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Colonoscopy: Debunking Myths Can Save Lives

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Colonoscopy: Debunking Myths Can Save Lives

With colorectal cancer ranking as the second most deadly cancer in the United State for both men and women, screenings can save lives. During a screening, physicians check for polyps, or small growths, that may develop inside the digestive tract. A colonoscopy procedure is widely considered the gold standard for colon cancer screening. 

However, according to Elliott B. Dreznick, MD, a board certified gastroenterologist with St. Charles Hospital, this potentially life-saving procedure is marred by misconceptions.

“The most common myth I hear is that a colonoscopy is not necessary because an individual is not experiencing symptoms, such as bleeding. Colonic polyps generally do not produce symptoms, as is the case with most colon cancers,” explains Dr. Dreznick.

Dr. Dresnick adds that patients may also fear that the procedure will be painful or uncomfortable.

“Anesthesia used today for colonoscopies can help ensure that an individual is asleep and experiences no pain during the procedure or side effects afterwards,” he says.

Some individuals may also believe that if their doctor finds polyps this means they definitely have cancer. However, not all polyps are cancerous. Polyps can also indicate the other problems such ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, two other digestive conditions. If left unchecked, however, some non-cancerous polyps have the potential to become cancerous.

While the interval between colon screenings depends on prior colonoscopy findings and other factors, some individuals may choose to delay having this test out of fear, embarrassment or because they do not see the urgency. Dr. Dresnick encourages regular colonoscopies for individuals over 50 (age 45 for African-Americans), but sooner for those who are at a higher risk due to family or personal history of colon cancer or long-standing ulcerative colitis.

“There are a handful of cancers for which an individual might be screened for early detection; colon cancer is one of these and regular screening colonoscopies have greatly reduced the rate and risk of colon cancer,” he urges.

For more information about the colorectal program at St. Charles Hospital call (631) 474-6797.