If you've been putting off having a colonoscopy out of fear or
dread, take heart: New advances are helping make this test faster and much
easier to endure.
Durado Brooks, MD, director of Colorectal Cancer for the American
Cancer Society, tells
WebMD that "most people no longer experience any significant discomfort during
the procedure. In fact most report they are pretty comfortable," he says.
Gastroenterologist Jennifer Christie, MD, agrees. "Patients are generally
much more comfortable now than in the past. And one reason is because doctors
are simply getting better at performing this screening. We're better trained
and we're doing more procedures, so patients reap the benefits," says
Christie, director of Women's Gastrointestinal Health and Motility at Mt. Sinai
Medical Center in New York City.
A colonoscopy is one option recommended for screening of colon cancer in adults at average
risk. A colonoscopy is performed by inserting a lighted, flexible tube called
an endoscope into the rectum to visualize the inside of the colon. The end of
the tube houses a tiny camera that relays the images back to a computer
During the test doctors look for lesions known as "polyps." These are small
growths that can sometimes be the precursor to colon cancer. If a polyp is
found, the endoscope can also be used to remove them during the same
"In this sense a colonoscopy is both diagnostic and therapeutic -- it can
find a problem and treat it during the same procedure," says Brooks.
Advances in Screening Techniques
If you had a colonoscopy in the past -- and didn't find it quite so easy to
endure -- chances are your screening did not include the use of a deeper type
of sedation that, until recently, was saved for more complex procedures.
"Traditionally we used just a sedative and a narcotic during colonoscopy.
Now we're moving towards using an anesthesiologist so that the patient can be
put into a deeper sleep without risking safety. And ultimately that means the
procedure can be done more quickly and the patient is really very comfortable,"
Because, however, not all insurance companies will pay for an
anesthesiologist, experts say in the future more gastroenterologists will
likely be trained in administering anesthesia, particularly in conjunction with
a nurse anesthetist.
In addition to more generous use of anesthesia, advances in the instruments
used during the test itself are also increasing the comfort level for patients.
One such advance helps reduce the incidence of "looping" -- a complication that
can make the exam difficult to complete.
In this instance the flexible tubing used to view the inside of the colon
gets caught in the multiple internal curves, causing the scope to push against
the colon allowing a "loop" to form. This can make it difficult to complete the