The world was shocked in August when the popular actor Chadwick Boseman died after a battle with colon cancer.
It was a tragic situation not only because the “Black Panther” star was beloved by so many, but because deaths like his are preventable as long as the cancer is caught early enough through regular screening procedures such as a colonoscopies.
“It was a wakeup call for people because colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the United States and in the world,” said Dr. William Stern, a board certified gastroenterologist with Capital Digestive Care and a Fellow of the American College of Gastroenterology.
Colon cancer starts as a little growth called a polyp and may take seven to 10 years before it actually turns into cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, anyone without risk factors or symptoms should start getting screened at the age of 45.
The main risk factor is family history, as people in their teens and 20s can potentially develop colon polyps due to genetic factors.
“If you have a family history where you have a parent, sibling or child with colon polyps or colon cancer, you should start screening at an earlier age,” said Stern.
Symptoms to watch out for include rectal bleeding, changes in bowel habits and unexplained weight loss or stomach pain.
“If you experience any of those you should speak with your doctor and see whether you should get screened for colon cancer,” Stern advised.
Even though they do save lives, colonoscopies have a certain feeling of dread associated with them in part because of the unpleasant preparation patients have had to go through.
Traditionally, prior to the procedure, patients have had to drink up to a gallon of liquid and take laxatives, leading to cramps and constant visits to the bathroom.
But things are rapidly changing, and getting easier for patients, due to developments related to HyGieaCare, a device that makes colonoscopy preparation far less inconvenient.
With the HyGieaCare system, patients go to a facility about an hour before their colonoscopy screening.
They sit in a recliner-like device that is effectively a sanitized basin while a sterile disposable nozzle brings a gentle stream of warm water into the bowel, loosening stool.
Water continues to flow, allowing patients to comfortably and discreetly evacuate their colon.
“This was actually used in a lot of fancy spas in Europe, and more recently promoted as a ‘colon cleanse’, but we’re now using it to clean the colon for a colonoscopy,” said Stern. “It’s very well-tolerated and most patients who’ve done it say they would never go back to the other prep.”
About 15,000 people in the United States have been treated with it so far.
“The importance of good bowel cleansing is the key for high-quality colonoscopy. An incomplete standard prep can result in poor cleanliness, which will make it more difficult for your gastroenterologist to complete the procedure satisfactorily,” according to the HyGieaCare website.
There are only a handful of facilities that offer HyGieaCare, including one in Norfolk, Virginia.
However, through a partnership between Capital Digestive Care and HyGieaCare, a facility is now available in the Washington, D.C. area in Rockville, Maryland.
Patients will go there for their preparation and then go to a separate office for their actual colonoscopy.
“Our Rockville HyGieaCare Center is the first and only one in Maryland and is located near three or four different outpatient endoscopy centers so it will be available to a lot of patients,” said Stern. “People who will be having their procedure at a more distant facility – maybe 15 to 30 minutes away – could drive to our center for their prep and then drive to the outpatient center for their screening.”
In addition to making colonoscopy preparation more convenient, Capital Digestive Care is working to keep its patients safe by limiting the spread of the coronavirus.
“We’re checking all our patients 2 to 3 days prior to their procedure for Covid,” said Stern. “If you’re scheduled for your procedure on a Wednesday you’ll get a Covid test on Monday.”
Stern said his practice tests all its doctors and staff members at least every other week.
“That ensures the safety of both the patients and the staff,” said Stern.