This post was sponsored by Salix Pharmaceuticals. However, all opinions are my own.
It’s March, and you know what that means! Ready for some colorectal cancer awareness? A lot of you know my life has been absolutely crazy lately BUT I can’t let this month pass by without acknowledging my story and encouraging you to get screened by getting a colonoscopy.
If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know I get a colonoscopy each year. This is not only because I was diagnosed with colon cancer when I was 17 and again at age 25, but it’s because I have Lynch syndrome. Lynch syndrome puts me at higher risk for colon cancer, so I get checked more often than the average person.
Because I’m a veteran colonoscopy-goer and a VIP at my GI’s office, I’m asked for tips about getting a colonoscopy a lot. Now that some of my high school classmates are starting to turn 40, this feels like even more important info. (Screening for people without a high risk or those who aren’t seeing any symptoms starts at age 45.) Buckle up, friends!
So, in the spirit of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, here are 10 things I want you to know about getting a colonoscopy:
#1. Don’t be afraid.
A lot of people are afraid of the procedure, but there’s nothing to be afraid of. In my experience, I’ve never felt anything and have never experienced any pain. In fact, you’re generally asleep under a mild sedation while the doctor performs the exam. The rumors are true: The colonoscopy prep you do before the procedure tends to be the most challenging part.
Even if a doctor does find and needs to remove a polyp (thus reducing your cancer risk), there’s no need to be afraid (Trust me, I’ve had many polyps removed.)
#2. Set a morning appointment.
In my opinion, it’s much easier to face a colonoscopy earlier in the day versus later. In fact, this is advice I gave Forbes readers a few months ago for their story about ways to approach healthcare.
Not only does an earlier appointment lead to a higher chance of your colonoscopy being on time (doctors typically aren’t running so late first thing in the morning), but I found it’s also easier on my body.
You will have fasted or eaten much less than you are used to the day prior, so chances are you’ll be hungry. If you get the colonoscopy done early, you’ll be on your way to breakfast in no time.
#3. Curb your hunger to stay happy.
Sure, sipping on coffee and broth doesn’t compare to eating a belly-filling meal. But, they are two ways to stay hydrated and curb your appetite on fasting day. Be sure to follow your doctor's advice as far as what liquids or foods they want you to eat.
#4. Don’t wait until the last minute to buy or start your prep.
I’ve made this mistake several times. One, don’t wait to buy your prep supplies. Whether you’re taking over-the-counter prep, or you need a prescription for your colonoscopy prep, do not wait until the day of your procedure to get or request it. Especially if you’re requesting a prescription prep: Don’t procrastinate. Sometimes the pharmacy won’t have it in stock, and they will need to order it which can take a few days.
Also, follow your doctor’s prep instructions and schedule. I’ve made the mistake of delaying the prep for several hours, which kept me up most of the night. Follow the suggested time frames as much as possible.
#5. Before you chug the jug, ask around. You have prep options.
Your doctor’s office will likely send you prep instructions that tell you what to take and when to take it. Some doctors prescribe jugs of bowel prep, others recommend over-the-counter products.
There are many options for colonoscopy prep, but you will most likely need to initiate the conversation with your doctor and ASK.
My personal preference for the past several years has been PLENVU® (polyethylene glycol 3350, sodium ascorbate, sodium sulfate, ascorbic acid, sodium chloride and potassium chloride for oral solution). I blogged about why I chose to try PLENVU for the first time, and why I chose it for a follow-up colonoscopy. Ever since I tried it, PLENVU has been my choice for colonoscopy prep.
I’ve had several colon surgeries, which means I only have a short amount of colon left. I appreciate that there is less to drink with the PLENVU prep compared to others, and the taste isn’t too bad either. I prefer PLENVU and I even did a video explaining why.
PLENVU® (polyethylene glycol 3350, sodium ascorbate, sodium sulfate, ascorbic acid, sodium chloride, and potassium chloride for oral solution) is a prescription medication used by adults to clean the colon before a colonoscopy
IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION
Do not take PLENVU® if you have a blockage in your intestine (bowel obstruction), an opening in the wall of your stomach or intestine (bowel perforation), problems with food or fluid emptying from your stomach (gastric retention), a problem with food moving too slowly through your intestines (ileus), a very dilated large intestine, or an allergy to any of the ingredients in PLENVU®.
(See additional Important Safety Information below and click here for full Prescribing Information for PLENVU®.)
BUT: Each time I have a colonoscopy, I have to request PLENVU. It’s not my doctor’s default recommendation, and his office writes me a prescription for it. Talk to your doctor about what is right for you.
#6. Take warm, fuzzy socks to the appointment.
Once you make it through prep night, the next day is your appointment. After you check in and fill out paperwork, nurses will call you back and get you ready for your scope. You’ll need to remove just about all of your clothing, and let’s just say it can get cold.
I like to wear fuzzy socks to my colonoscopy appointments because they keep my feet warm, and they’re also comforting. Yes, you can wear socks during your colonoscopy. It can be a little intimidating to go through something like this, but the soft, fuzzy feeling helps calm my nerves.
#7. Get a copy of your results.
Before you get dressed and walk out, make sure you understand your colonoscopy report and your next steps. Sometimes it takes a while for the anesthesia to wear off, so ask questions and take notes if you can.
This is important because we might be alone during a colonoscopy, and no one is with us to hear the doctor’s report.
If you had polyps removed, be sure you understand when you’ll hear back from pathology about them and how soon you need to have a colonoscopy again. (Also, tell your family if you had polyps removed since they may also be at higher risk for polyps.)
Request that all instructions be written down and then ask for a printout of the report before you leave to go home.
#8. Talk about it—please!
Decades ago, breast cancer and mammograms weren’t so commonly understood or discussed. There was a cultural stigma that, over time, has broken off. Now, hearing about breast cancer awareness doesn’t make you blush, and many things “turn pink” every October.
We need the same effect in colorectal cancer, and it starts with all of us being willing to share that we had a colonoscopy. This will normalize it for someone else.
You telling someone you had a colonoscopy will break the “gross factor” and it will highlight the importance. Tell your neighbor, post on social media, be honest about why you weren’t at work—do what feels normal and natural. But whatever you do, please don’t hide that you had it. The people in your circle need to know… ESPECIALLY your family.
#9. Ask about billing.
Things are constantly changing in healthcare, even when it comes to pricing. When you have a colonoscopy, it’s not uncommon for you to receive multiple bills depending on where you get it done. At my ambulatory surgery center, I’m billed by the facility, the doctor, the anesthesiologist and pathology.
ALSO: Ask if all of these people (including 3rd-party providers that will be helping with your colonoscopy) are in-network for you. I’ve recently found that sometimes they’re not.
Make sure you understand all of the possible costs before you go in so there aren’t any surprise bills. GI offices have gotten pretty good at notifying you about predicted and potential costs before your scope, but ask if they don’t bring it up.
#10. Do you HAVE to get a colonoscopy? It depends.
It’s a fair question: Do I HAVE to get a colonoscopy? The answer is: It depends. If you’re 45 or older, and you need to do colorectal cancer screening because of your age, then you may have options. Your doctor will prescribe the test, and you’ll work with his/her office to get results and next steps. At-home tests will need to be done more frequently. And, if something comes back abnormal, you’ll need to get a colonoscopy to figure out why. If you're under age 45, you might still be asked by your doctor to have a colonoscopy if you are considered at high-risk for colorectal cancer or if you are showing signs or symptoms.
But, at-home tests are a great option if you don’t have any symptoms, are not high risk and you don’t want to go in for a colonoscopy. As always, consult with your doctor to figure out the best approach for you.
If you’re having any symptoms, or if you’re at high risk for colorectal cancer, it’s unlikely that these stool-based tests are for you. But don’t feel bad, you’re not alone. I can’t do them either. Just consider yourself Team Colonoscopy like me.
Because I mentioned PLENVU, you need to know this information:
PLENVU’s Indications and Important Safety Information:
PLENVU® (polyethylene glycol 3350, sodium ascorbate, sodium sulfate, ascorbic acid, sodium chloride, and potassium chloride for oral solution) is a prescription medication used by adults to clean the colon before a colonoscopy.
IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION
- Do not take PLENVU® if you have a blockage in your intestine (bowel obstruction), an opening in the wall of your stomach or intestine (bowel perforation), problems with food or fluid emptying from your stomach (gastric retention), a problem with food moving too slowly through your intestines (ileus), a very dilated large intestine, or an allergy to any of the ingredients in PLENVU®.
- It is important to drink sufficient clear liquids before, during, and after the use of PLENVU®. Be sure to consume additional clear liquids after the first dose and second dose of PLENVU®. Stop drinking liquids 2 hours prior to colonoscopy.
- Before you take PLENVU®, talk to your doctor if you:
- Have problems with serious loss of body fluid (dehydration) and changes in blood salts (electrolytes).
- Have heart problems or take medication that affects your heart. Your doctor may consider obtaining an electrocardiogram (ECG) test if you are at an increased risk for heart rhythm abnormalities.
- Have a history of seizures or take antiseizure medication.
- Have kidney problems or take medication that affects kidney function. Your doctor may want to perform blood testing before and after your colonoscopy.
- Have a history of stomach or bowel problems, such as ulcerative colitis, a bowel blockage, or a suspected opening in the wall of your stomach or intestine.
- Have problems swallowing, heartburn (gastric reflux), or if you inhale food or fluid into your lungs when eating or drinking (aspirate).
- Have a condition that destroys red blood cells, called glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency.
- Are withdrawing from drinking alcohol.
- Have phenylketonuria (PKU). PLENVU® contains aspartame equivalent to 491 mg of phenylalanine per treatment.
- Are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.
- Are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed.
- PLENVU® may affect how other medications work. Tell your doctor about all other medications (including prescription and nonprescription medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements) you take before you take PLENVU®. Do not take oral medications within 1 hour before or after starting each dose of PLENVU®.
- Symptoms of serious allergic reactions may include skin rash, itching, raised red patches on your skin (hives), swelling of the face, lips, tongue, and throat, and kidney problems.
- In clinical studies with PLENVU®, the most common side effects in patients taking PLENVU® were nausea, vomiting, dehydration, and abdominal pain/discomfort.
You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit www.fda.gov/medwatch or call 1-800-FDA-1088.
Please click here for full Prescribing Information for PLENVU®.
For product information, adverse event reports, and product complaint reports, please contact:
Salix Product Information Call Center