Colonoscopies are non-events, while colon cancer is the leading cause of death for men less than 50

February 7, 2024 4:13 am

A colonoscopy exam room (Photo by artistmac via Flickr CC-BY-SA 2.0).

Cancer is a frightening word.

Years ago I lost a life-long friend to colon cancer.  Craig was a rugged, friendly, western man. He had no symptoms and never had a colonoscopy to check for early signs of colon cancer. No symptoms, no concerns. Right? 

I thought of Craig when I recently completed my sixth – that’s right – sixth  colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is a non-surgical preventive medicine procedure where, in a clinic or hospital, a medical doctor does a visual inspection of the internal lining of your colon wall to look for and possibly remove suspected cancerous tissue. 

While you are sedated the doctor inserts a long endoscopic optic tube through your anus and into your rectum and colon. These make up your large bowel. The doctor looks for polyps or other possible indications of cancer in your large bowel. If the doctor finds any suspect tissues the doctor can remove them through the tube. Medical staff then examine the removed tissue for abnormalities. 

Yes, this does not sound fun, especially for western men who pride themselves on rugged individualism and manliness: As in, “I’m not hanging my backside out for everyone to see, and nobody is sticking a tube up my…” (You can finish the sentence here.) Our  private parts are not high on the list to talk about – especially among men. 

Colon cancer is deadly serious. The American Cancer Society reports  colorectal cancer is the fourth leading cause of all cancer deaths and the leading cause of cancer deaths in men less than 50 years old. Colon cancer also increases in younger adults. The ACS recommends colorectal cancer screening to begin at age 45. 

I am a polyp grower, meaning small abnormal growths appear in my colon, the larger part of the intestinal bowel. I have known this for years, and because I am prone to polyps I have a colonoscopy every five years. Luckily, no cancer thus far. 

A colonoscopy is a nonevent. I know from long-term personal experience. During the procedure you won’t have anyone just wandering around “down there,” and you won’t  be baring your backside for everyone to behold. Medical staff protects your modesty, and you sleep through it all covered in warm fuzzy blankets. The procedure itself is not painful; you are sedated in the event the doctor must remove a polyp or tissue sample.  The disagreeable part of a colonoscopy is the night before your procedure you must flush your bowel as the doctor needs to look at a clean colon wall. To flush your bowel you drink a tolerable lemon-flavored prescription liquid that causes diarrhea. Just take some reading material and sit on the stool for a while. This too shall pass.

On my recent colonoscopy the doctor said he did not find any polyps or see  abnormal tissue. Good news, but I will see him again in five years. Peace of mind is a  great thing to have.  

Don’t fear colonoscopies – they are truly a non-event. Talk to your doctor about  them. I wish my friend, Craig, had done that.

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Ed Saunders
Ed Saunders

Ed E. Saunders is a retired colonel in the United States Army, serving in the military for more than 20 years. He is also an accomplished writer, historian and photographer. He has written books on the unknown stories of women in World War I and the creation of the Yellowstone National Cemetery.