Watch Now - Colonoscopy: Conquering Test Anxiety

Booyah! I finally scheduled and went through with a colonoscopy — a health screening for colorectal cancer. I zoomed past my 50th birthday as if the most commonly recommended age for getting screened was just an easy-to-ignore mile marker.

But earlier this year, I made a public commitment on this blog to tackle some of the cancer health screenings I had been putting off, especially a colonoscopy.

It was a wise choice. That’s because when it comes to colon cancer, I have a triple dose of elevated risk factors based on my age, race and family medical history. I check the box for each of these risk factors:

  • Age: More than 90 percent of colorectal cases are diagnosed in patients 50 and older, and the risk gets higher with age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Therefore, it’s important to be screened after age 50.
  • Race: African-Americans have a greater risk and because of the higher risk should start screening at 45 years of age, medical experts say.
  • Family history: Your risk factor is higher if someone in your immediate family (a parent or a sibling) had colorectal cancer, especially if they developed the disease at an early age.
  • But colorectal cancer strikes all races and genders, says Eduardo Ruan, M.D., my doctor and a gastro health specialist affiliated with several Baptist Health hospitals and the Galloway Endoscopy Center.  In fact, of all the cancers that equally affect men and women, colorectal cancer is the No. 1 killer, according to federal data.

    Unfortunately, test anxiety about colonoscopies is also common. Blog posts, newspaper articles and even scholarly studies have covered the topic. Folks from all over the country have added their personal accounts to an online collection of test anxiety stories, published by The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

    “I want to share my story of how a screening colonoscopy saved my life,” writes Denise from Ohatchee, Alabama. “For two years my doctor kept reminding me that I needed to have a screening colonoscopy. I was perfectly healthy and had no family history of colon cancer. I had many reasons to procrastinate, but basically, out of fear of the test, the prep, and a few dozen lame excuses, I chose to ignore my doctor. It wasn’t until my husband dared me in front of my doctor that I agreed to the test.”

    At age 52, a colonoscopy showed that she had early-stage rectal cancer, which was cured through surgery.  Like Denise, my father benefitted from the early detection of colorectal cancer during a routine colonoscopy. And in fact, my dad’s successful battle against colon cancer ultimately prompted me to finally make and keep the appointment for the exam.

     “A colonoscopy has a dual role: prevention and early detection,” said Dr. Ross Collazo, a Baptist Health Primary Care physician. “With a colonoscopy, the focus is on prevention because the exam enables the physician to potentially identify polyps or lesions that could be malignant, and remove them during the screening.”

    Education is the key, Dr. Collazo says, adding that as a primary doctor, he views every office visit as an opportunity to discuss preventive medicine with patients, even if they are just coming in because of the flu or for a routine checkup.

    My colonoscopy results came back with a clean bill of health, and I am more relaxed because I have taken an important health exam.  I agree with Denise, the woman who shared her story on CDC website:

    “The prep for the colonoscopy was honestly not that bad. The colonoscopy was accompanied by sedation that made me wonder, Is that all there is to it?

    My advice? Relax and carefully follow the pre-exam instructions from your doctor. Hint: the preps weren’t nearly as bad as feared. Consumer Reports has also published a list of 12 tips for those facing a colonoscopy.  


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