Tatiana Kovtoun, M.D., understands patients may be a bit apprehensive about getting a colonoscopy.
However, she noted, the preparation and procedure involve very little time and discomfort compared to seeking treatment for colorectal cancer later.
Dr. Kovtoun is a general surgeon at Central Kansas Surgical Care, which is part of the St. Rose Ambulatory & Surgery Center family. She is observing National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month by educating as many people as she can about screening for the disease.
"When you consider that a colonoscopy involves about a day-and-a-half, the risks and difficulties of dealing with colorectal cancer far outweigh the minor inconvenience," Dr. Kovtoun said. "We know that some people may feel embarrassed by the procedure, but health-care providers are professionals. All of us take great care to minimize any embarrassment or discomfort."
The preparation involves taking laxatives the day before the procedure. Just prior to the procedure, the patient is sedated and an endoscope is inserted into the rectum. The scope sends images of the colon to a monitor for the doctor’s review.
"Patients can address any concerns with their health-care provider before the procedure," Dr. Kovtoun said. "Once they learn the facts, concerns are usually alleviated. After you ask questions and get the answers, you can make an informed decision."
A significant amount of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented if all men and women age 50 and older were screened routinely, Dr. Kovtoun said, noting the test may be needed once every five to 10 years. Precancerous polyps are removed during a colonoscopy before they turn into cancer.
"In addition," Dr. Kovtoun said, "this screening can also detect colorectal cancer early. This is when treatment works best."
Some people may need to be tested earlier than age 50, depending on family history or the presence of inflammatory bowel disease.
Some of the symptoms to watch for include bleeding or pain during bowel movements, and changes in bowel movements.
"But you may not have any symptoms at all," Dr. Kovtoun elaborated. "You might think, ‘I feel fine,’ but it is always best to get screened. Don’t wait until polyps have a chance to develop into cancer."
Other colorectal cancer screening options include fecal occult blood tests (FOBT), barium enemas and CT colonography, also known as "virtual colonoscopy."
"Colonoscopy is still the best test that we offer for colorectal cancer screening," the surgeon said. "Some lesions can be missed during other types of tests. And since polyps cannot be removed during these tests, you would still have to have a colonoscopy.
"Sometimes a patient has a condition that precludes doing the prep the day before, or maybe they have problems with anesthesia," Dr. Kovtoun added. "But if you are a healthy individual, a colonoscopy is the way to go. The survival rate of colorectal cancer is very good, especially if it is caught early."
Dr. Kovtoun performs between 30 and 40 colonoscopies per month at St. Rose.