Colonoscopy: It's Not So Bad!

Steve Ehrlich just made an important decision that could save his life. The Early Show was there while he was getting ready to have his first colonoscopy.

"I think it's fabulous," his wife, Leslie Harwood Ehrlich, told The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith.

"I think it's good because we have to make sure that he's healthy and doesn't have cancer," said his daughter, Laura Ehrlich.

Preparing for a colonoscopy involves drinking a full gallon of not-so-great tasting liquid to cleanse the colon.

"People tell me what I'm doing now is the toughest part," Steve Ehrlich said. "So now that I am 22 minutes into the process I don't find it difficult. We'll see what the next several hours brings."

"Steve is one of my favorite types of patients that I see in my office because he came in and he said I'm healthy, I want you to keep me healthy," said Dr. Mark Pochapin, director of the Jay Monahan Center at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Not many people know when they should get their first colonoscopy.

"The general age is 50 for the first colonoscopy but if there's a family history of colon cancer or related cancers like ovarian or uterine cancer you should start at age 40 or 10 years younger than the earliest family member who had that cancer," Dr. Pochapin said.

After a good night's sleep, Ehrlich said that he is ready to go.

"You never go wrong doing something good," he said. "This is good for me. This is good for everybody to see and hopefully everybody will benefit from that as well."

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A colonoscopy certainly sounds difficult and uncomfortable and many people are afraid of it. But Dr. Pochapin said the patient is placed under sedation so he is comfortable and then a long, thin tube with a tiny camera and light are guided through the rectum and colon.

"I think this view is spectacular," Dr. Pochapin said while he examined Ehrlich. "It really shows you the natural beauty. You can see how comfortable the patient is. That's the best part. The patient really gets to relax."

Screening is important because even if you don't have any symptoms, you can still have colon cancer.

"One of the big myths is that if you feel well you are well," Dr. Pochapin said. "That's not true with colon cancer."

During a colonoscopy the doctor checks for small growths called polyps, cancer or other abnormalities.

"You can see I keep going up and around looking behind every fold every nook and cranny of the colon really to make sure there's nothing hiding," Dr. Pochapin said.

But even if the doctor finds a polyp, that does not mean the patient has colon cancer.

"This is very important," Dr. Pochapin said. "If you find out you have a polyp that does not mean that that polyp was going to turn cancerous nor has cancer in it. It means it had the possibility. So if I find something even an early cancer, I actually tell the patients 'good news because we got it early.' This is something we can cure."

As it turned out, Ehrlich's colonoscopy painted the most beautiful pictures.

"Steve, it was perfectly healthy. Couldn't have been any healthier," Dr. Pochapin said. "No polyps. No diverticulosis. Nothing. A picture of health."

For more information on colon cancer check out these sites:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Colorectal Cancer Page
  • The CDC's Screening Demonstration Program
  • EIF's Colorectal Cancer Legislation report card
  • The American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy
  • The American College of Gastroenterology
    • Melissa McNamara

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