About Amy Umble:
Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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They’ve made changes to the colonoscopy to make it more comfortable for patients

Dr. Dong Lee

The doctors at Gastroenterology Associates of Fredericksburg are realistic about the work they do and frank about patients’ reaction to it. Perhaps because of that, they also have a good sense of humor.

Recently they talked about their frustration at the relatively low participation rates for colonoscopy, and what the group is doing to get more people to get the colon cancer screening.

The obstacles are obvious, said Dr. Dong Lee.

For one, the colonoscopy is invasive. “If you tell someone you’re going to stick a 5-foot-long camera in their rectum, that sounds kinda’ scary,” Lee said.

Then there’s the issue of the gas used during the procedure to inflate the colon and allow for its inspection. The gas is typically room air and doesn’t leave the body quickly. In fact, patients can be passing gas long after the procedure is done. In their recovery room, Lee said, “If you have three people recovering, you hear a chorus going.”

Despite these obstacles, colonoscopies are a powerful way to discover and remove potentially cancerous polyps. Yet national statistics show that barely half of those for whom the test is recommended actually get one. Participation rates for mammogram and the PAP test are much higher.

Lee and his colleagues hope to improve the rate locally by making the test more comfortable. To do that, they’ve switched to carbon dioxide, rather than room air, to inflate the colon. CO2 is absorbed quickly in the body so there is less gas to be vented afterwards. Their recovery room is a lot quieter, Lee joked.

Dr. Frank DeTrane

They’ve also changed to a different test prep solution. With the old prep, patients had to drink a gallon of salty liquid the night before their tests. The new prep solution comes in a smaller dose and is taken in two settings, rather than one, said Dr. Frank DeTrane.

The old solution was advertised as “pleasant tasting,” though I would not recommend serving it at your next party. Unless, DeTrane said, “you want everybody to go in an hour, literally.”

(For more on the changes to the colonoscopy made by the physicians at Gastroenterology Associates of Fredericksburg, see the story soon in the paper.)