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, the 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.
- Dysbiosis. Intestinal flora are 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. Both substances kill bacteria, both good and bad. Dysbiosis 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 health problems.
- A Worsening of Stool Patterns: Those already affected by hemorrhoids, chronic constipation, IBS or diverticulosis may find these conditions become worse after colonoscopy.
- Complications from the Procedure: 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: Blood clotting is a side effect of anesthesia, particularly among patients with diabetes or heart disease.
- Infections: 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.
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.
- Use an at-home colorectal screening kit. They are inexpensive and convenient. They detect blood, polyps, and other abnormalities in the stool. If you have a positive result, then go get a colonoscopy. Results in minutes with lab accurate results.
- 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 outdo it 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.