COLUMN: Prevention and early detection

Published 6:30 pm Monday, September 18, 2023

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Prevention and early detection are vital keys to a happy, healthy living. They are important to our physical and mental wellness. Prevention is any action on our part to keep us healthy and well. Early detection and diagnosis can improve health and save life.

The saying or proverb, “Prevention is better than cure,” attributed to the Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus about 1500, has become a fundamental principle in modern health care. 

I’ve just had a colonoscopy recently, my third, so far. Thank God, it went well. Many thanks to Dr. Ramirez at Lakeview Medical Center’s Bayview Digestive Health and Colorectal Surgery (Ambulatory Surgery Department) and his team for a job well done. (My first two colonoscopies were done at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, where I worked as a Hospital Corpsman-X-ray Tech for 11 out of my 22 years in the Naval Service before I retired in 2005.)

Colonoscopy is a medical procedure that uses a colonoscope, a thin fiber-optic instrument (containing over 40,000 fiber optic threads that extends about 6 feet long) inserted through the anus by a certified colorectal surgeon or gastroenterologist to examine the colon for possible colorectal cancer, colon polyps, tumors, ulcers, and other abnormalities there. The instrument allows the surgeon to view your colon directly which is much more accurate than an X-ray or stool test. 

Wikipedia defines colonoscopy or coloscopy as the endoscopic examination of the large bowel and the distal part of the small intestine with a CCD camera or a fiber optic camera on a flexible thin tube passed through the anus. It provides a visual diagnosis, like ulceration, polyps, and grants the opportunity for biopsy or removal of suspected colorectal cancer lesions.

Colon polyps are abnormal growth of tissue on the lining of the colon that can be cancerous. To determine if it’s cancerous or not, a biopsy is performed.

Colonoscopy may take a half-hour to an hour or more. If your gastroenterologist finds polyps, he removes them with a biopsy forceps or cold snare, a specialized tool inside the colonoscope.

Like any medical procedure, there may be complications that occur while having colonoscopy, such as perforation of the colon, bleeding and infection, or complications from anesthesia.

The American Cancer Society recommends that individuals at average risk for developing colorectal cancer should have a screening colonoscopy at age 50 and every 10 years thereafter. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. Lung and bronchial cancer tops the list, followed by breast cancer especially for women. When numbers for men and women are combined, colon cancer is the second most cancer deaths in America.

With routine check-ups, proper diagnosis, and periodic colonoscopies, colon cancer is preventable.

The success of the exam depends on a clean, empty colon and large intestine. The procedure will be canceled or rescheduled if your colon (small and large intestines) is not completely clean or empty.

A week before my colonoscopy, I strictly followed a low-residue diet, with plenty of water or clear liquids so as not to be dehydrated. 

Two days before the exam, I took two Dulcolax tablets at bedtime. No more solid foods thereafter. Just clear liquids, NO RED or PURPLE in color, the first thing in the morning on the day before the procedure. Then, at noon, I started drinking every 8 oz. of the solution (the MiraLAX white powder mixed with 64 oz. of Gatorade (I chose the Frost flavor) in a pitcher and chilled), every 15 minutes, until the entire mixture is finished. 

In the instructions given me, if I feel full, bloated or feeling kind of sick (which I wasn’t. Thank God.), I was told to take a 45 minute to an hour break before I begin the prep again.  By the way, the prep solution caused frequent trips to the toilet or rest room, of course, leaving me feeling drained, hungry, tired, 

For those taking regular or maintenance medications, blood pressure meds and heart meds, clarify with your gastroenterologist ahead of time prior to drinking your prep. 

One important thing: you have to have a designated driver to and from the hospital. Thank God, I have my consummate driver, my wife Freny. 

Prior to the procedure, you receive a confirmation call (usually a nurse) from your selected hospital, a day before, to confirm/remind you of your colonoscopy date and time of arrival. That’s also the time to verify your demographics and insurance information, and to ask if you have other question/s to clarify things about medications, etc.

On the day of the exam, after giving the nurse the name and date of the last dose of any and all drugs or medicines (over the counter and prescribed) taken recently, and after I changed clothes to hospital gowns and socks, and talking to my surgeon, Dr. Ramirez, I was wheeled to the exam room, transferred to a bed, where nurses and an anesthesiologist attended me. 

Ready for the procedure, I got sedated via an IV (intravenous) that put me to a relaxed mood or sleep or (un)consciousness, while my gastroenterologist examined my colon.  

After the procedure, I was awaken and then changed clothes. After that I had a brief conversation with Dr. Ramirez. I thanked him and his team for a job well done. Thank God. I thought that would be my last. I’ll have another one in five years. (He said he removed a small polyps that’s not cancerous.)

Colonoscopy is a procedure that can save your life by detecting abnormalities inside the lining of your large intestine. So, folks, if you’re due for this exam, go see your doctor and set an appointment to have it.

Chris A. Quilpa, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, lives in Suffolk and Chesapeake. Email him at