Cedars-Sinai Blog

Dodging a Colonoscopy?

"We will not die from fear. We will not die from embarrassment."

Dr. Zuri Murrell, director of the Cedars-Sinai Colorectal Cancer Center, chants these words with crowds in churches and community centers.

Colorectal cancer is the #2 cancer killer of both men and women. This same cancer is up to 90% preventable with appropriate screening. Colonoscopies are safe, effective, and easy.

"People always laugh when I say it's easy, but literally you feel nothing," Murrell said.

Patients are usually asleep for the procedure, and when they wake up, they'll often ask Murrell what he found.

"Most of the time, when done appropriately, my answer is ‘I found a polyp, and guess what? We prevented cancer today.’"

The overall rate of cancer continues to decline. However, African-Americans are the only group in the United States for which the number of colorectal cancer cases continues to increase. Yet they are the least likely to be offered a colonoscopy, and African-American men are the least likely to actually get a colonoscopy.

That's why Dr. Murrell visits churches in communities where people are less likely to get a colonoscopy to talk about the importance of the screening.

"This test is easily done," he says. "And this test actually pre-emptively saves lives."

Colonoscopy facts

  • A colonoscopy allows a doctor to see the entire colon and rectum.
  • Doctors are usually looking for polyps, small growths that could later become cancer.
  • A colonoscope is a thin, flexible, hollow, lighted tube with a tiny camera mounted on the end.
  • The exam lasts about 30 minutes. Most people are given medication to relax and sleep through the procedure—so plan to have someone drive you home from the exam.
  • You and your doctor should discuss how frequently you need a colonoscopy. Most people have one every 10 years, unless they are at high risk for colon cancer. Most start at age 50*, but you may start younger depending on your risk.
  • Most people dread the preparation more than the exam itself. So the doctor can see your insides clearly, your colon needs to be as cleaned out as possible. You may be told to avoid certain foods or stick to a clear liquid diet for a day or so. You'll be given strong laxatives, which will make you go to the bathroom a lot and may still be working the next morning when you go for your appointment.
  • If a small polyp is found, the doctor will likely remove it. If a large polyp or other abnormality is found, a biopsy will be done: Part of the tissue will be taken out through the colonoscope for examination in a laboratory.

Ready to schedule your colonoscopy? Call 1-800-CEDARS-1 to make an appointment or visit our website for more information.

*This has been updated to reflect guidelines from the CDC and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.