A 2012 study from the journal Gastrointestinal Endoscopy found that as many as a third of polyps are missed when people fail to adequately prepare for their colonoscopy. Some of those polyps and other markers of cancer risk are often discovered months later when patients have their next colonoscopy.
Dr. Pankaj Vashi, National Clinical Director of Gastroenterology/Nutrition & Metabolic Support at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Chicago says: "If the colon isn't completely cleaned out, we can potentially miss small polyps. It's a crucial thing to have a cleaned-out colon." (US News & World Report).
The preparation before a colonoscopy, which aims to thoroughly clean out your bowels, is perhaps the most important part of test.
Fortunately, colonoscopy preparation has come a long way since having to drink an entire gallon of salty solution the night before the procedure. Here are some ways the preparation process has improved:
- Less to drink - Today, most preparations require half of the previously required volume.
- Change in flavoring – Minor flavoring has been added to some solutions to make them more palatable.
- Pills are now an option – Although the standard prep relies on taking 32 pills with liquids, researchers are looking into options with fewer tablets.
- Over-the-counter options – Some preps allow you take the laxative MiraLAX, along with 64 ounces of a sports drink (e.g., Gatorade).
- Prep time split – It may be possible to split the prep in half, doing half the night before and half in the morning, five hours before the colonoscopy.
While it may not be pleasant, adequate preparation before a colonoscopy is a must for detecting potentially precancerous polyps. Researchers are continuing to look for ways to improve this cancer screening process. A virtual colonoscopy, which uses CT scanning to capture images of the bowel, requires just four cleansing tablets before the test. Researchers are also studying a noninvasive DNA-based stool test.
Ask your doctor what colon-cleansing options are available to you and follow their directions carefully. Also, take comfort that once you get through the prep part, you may find the actual test itself to be no big deal.