If you are turning 45 anytime soon, chances are your doctor has recommended a colonoscopy. This life-saving screening is the best way to detect and prevent colon cancer - a disease when caught early is usually very treatable.
Seems like a no-brainer, right?
The reality is 1 in 3 people in the U.S. who should get tested for colon cancer have never been screened. Many either believe they don’t need the screening (early stage colon cancer usually has no symptoms), or they are dreading the prep needed to clean out your colon the day before the exam.
“People always fuss about the colonoscopy prep,” said Dr. Harry Wasvary, a Beaumont colorectal surgeon. “I’ve taken it myself and it’s really not that bad. We do it over 24-hours and most people tolerate it quite well.”
Why is the prep for a colonoscopy so important?
During a colonoscopy, your doctor is looking for small polyps, which are harmless growths that can develop into cancer over time. If your colon is not clean, the doctor could miss these small growths. The goal of the prep is to strip away fecal matter from the intestines to provide a better view.
How does the prep work?
The exact prep process might vary slightly depending on your doctor, and they will provide you with detailed instructions when you schedule your test. In general, most people will begin a clear liquid diet the day before the procedure and continue it until after the test.
The bowel prep will start sometime the day before as well depending on when your procedure is scheduled. Most bowel prep includes over-the-counter liquid and/or pill laxatives.
How has the prep changed over time?
The good news is the prep has gotten much easier over time. The volume of laxative needed has decreased significantly and the overall taste has improved.
Most doctors have also moved to a split-dose prep, meaning you drink half the liquid the night before, and the other half the morning of your procedure. If your colonoscopy is scheduled for the afternoon, you may even be able to do the whole thing the morning of your exam.
“I have people come in for a colonoscopy who haven’t had one in 10 or 15 years and they are surprised how much easier the prep was this time around,” Dr. Wasvary said. “Most people will say it wasn’t as bad as they thought it was going to be.”
Here are some things you can do to help your colonoscopy prep go as smoothly as possible:
- Make a shopping list of supplies you might need and stock up before you start the prep process.
- Clear your schedule and stay near the bathroom.
- Arrange for someone to be available to care for young children, aging parents or anyone else you provide care for.
- Cut back on high-fiber foods a few days before the procedure.
- Drink plenty of clear liquids to avoid dehydration.
- Read your doctor’s instructions carefully and follow them.
“If your colonoscopy looks normal, you likely won’t have to come back for five to 10 years,” Dr. Wasvary added. “Since it’s the best way to prevent and detect colorectal cancer, it’s worth the effort for those couple days.”