The little-discussed risks and side effects of colonoscopy screening and why, in some cases, people would do best to avoid them. If you must have one, how to minimize the dangers as much as possible and a safe alternative to consider as a logical middle ground.
March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month each year. At that time, the usual health experts trot out on TV and print media to urge us all to get a colonoscopy. The inherent risks of this reviled procedure especially for those over age 50 are usually conveniently glossed over in favor of an aggressive push about the benefits.
That “kick in the butt” might initially sound like a good idea. However, according to the Annals of Internal Medicine, the rate of serious complications from colonoscopy screening is ten times higher than any other commonly used cancer-screening test.
According to Konstantin Monastyrky, author of Fiber Menace:
The odds of being killed or injured by the side effects of colonoscopy may exceed your odds of getting colorectal cancer in the first place.
He further points out that the procedure is far from infallible. It often fails to catch colorectal cancer in the first place. In addition, it can cause, contribute to or accelerate the growth of colorectal and other cancers.
Let’s go into each of these colonoscopy risks in detail.
Intestinal flora is disrupted by a colonoscopy because the procedure requires a thorough washing out of the large intestine with large doses of synthetic laxatives. This is followed by bowel irrigation with polyethylene glycol and hypertonic electrolytes.
These substances kill bacteria, both good and bad just like antibiotics. The gut dysbiosis that inevitably follows contributes to irregularity, constipation, colitis, IBS, Crohn’s, and other diseases known to increase colon cancer risk. Dysbiosis also contributes to a wide range of other autoimmune health problems.
Worsening of Stool Patterns
Those already affected by hemorrhoids, chronic constipation, IBS, or diverticulosis may find these conditions become worse after colonoscopy.
Serious complications, such as colon perforation, occur in five out of every one thousand colonoscopies.
The risks of delayed bleeding, infection, and ulceration are even higher. Unfortunately, reporting of these complications in connection with colonoscopy is rare.
Increased Risks of Stroke, Heart Attack, and Pulmonary Embolisms
Dangerous blood clotting is a side effect of anesthesia, particularly among patients with diabetes or heart disease.
Procedures performed under anesthesia are associated with an increased risk of serious infections. This includes pneumonia or pyelonephritis.
False Sense of Security
Doctors miss from 15-27 percent of polyps, including six percent of large tumors. The New England Journal of Medicine even reported that some doctors blast through the colonoscopy so fast they miss cancer in full bloom!
Indeed, the desire for speed is why most colonoscopies today are done under anesthesia. Might there be a profit motive? Some doctors do 60 colonoscopies per day at an average cost of $1,500 to $2000 each. You do the math.
Many people do not realize that you can order an at-home colorectal screening kit to avoid most colonoscopies. They are inexpensive, safe, and convenient. Blood, polyps, and other abnormalities are quickly detected by using a simple stool sample. Results are available fast with lab accurate results.
If you have a positive result from one of these home tests, then go get a colonoscopy. But, in most cases, you will get a negative result, saving you the discomfort and risks of the actual colorectal screening.
Ways to Manage Colonoscopy Risks
Here are a few suggestions about how to increase the level of safety and accuracy in the screening for colon cancer.
- Those with a family history of colon cancer or otherwise at high risk probably should do a colonoscopy. But it is best to request to have it done without general anesthesia. That’s where the majority of the risks are. Some doctors offer inhalation sedation as a safer alternative. Doctors who prefer knocking the patient out use this approach so they can ‘jam’ through the colon much faster. Billing for anesthesiology increases revenues for the hospital too.
- Doing radiography first is pointless. The reason? If they find some polyps, you will still need to have a colonoscopy. Besides, you don’t want all that huge exposure to ionizing radiation.
- If you do decide to go through with a colonoscopy, at least prepare with clear broth you make yourself. Commercial brands at the store are not nutritious and contain unhealthy additives and MSG. Exposure to these chemicals can potentially make digestive issues worse and recovery more difficult.
- After the colonoscopy, follow this protocol to rebuild gut flora. It is the same process recommended by experts after a round of antibiotics.
Excellent article. I’ve read about these dangers before but a few more worth mentioning would be:
– once you’ve taken the prep and killed off all of your good bacteria, your bowel is now unprotected.
The doctor then inserts the scope/camera and you are hoping that those devices were well-cleaned. What I read from Jini Patel Thompson’s site (she healed herself from Crohn’s – excellent info there) is that those scopes cannot be effectively cleaned due to the delicate instrumentation. So, maybe the person having the scope before you had cancer. Do you want their cells in your unprotected colon? Not I. I asked my GI doctor about this and he admitted it was an issue but that it was not as bad as it used to be. Wow, thanks for letting us know about this hidden information doc (NOT) so I could make an informed decision. No wonder many people are leery of the medical profession. They certainly should be.
How about an alternative to the clean-out junk? If I’m doing light-roast coffee enemas ahead of time then switching to eating really clean, perhaps even light-colored juice options, would that suffice instead of the stuff they give you to clean your system out?
Global Healing has a colon cleanser supplement made of oxygenated magnesium oxide that can be used a few times a year and Dr. Group claims it’s not harmful to the colon. There’s also Dr. Dmitry Kats’ hypothesis that niacin (quick acting with the flush) can replenish colonocytes that patrol the colon for cancer. Sounds like a much more gentle approach to preventing colon cancer, besides maintaining a Vitamin-D level between 60 and 80.