Colonoscopy comes with risks, but the risks are worth it

The 400 biggest problems with “virtual colonoscopy” are radiation. Radiation. Radiation… etc.

Computed tomographic colonography (CTC) is the actual name of the procedure. And it delivers 400 times the radiation exposure of a chest x-ray.

For me, that’s a deal-breaker. But each patient has to weigh the options to decide on the procedure they feel is best.

For instance, consider this note I received from an HSI member named Rachel…

“I have a comment about your article on CT scans versus colonoscopies. It needs to be mentioned that in a large percentage of cases the colon is perforated during a colonoscopy.

“This is highly dangerous, and happened to my husband. He very nearly died as a result. (The surgeon covered it up for three weeks, saying it was just trapped air (!!) but I managed to read my husband’s notes, so found out.)

“CT scans are highly dangerous, but so are colonoscopies. It seems to be a choice between the devil or the deep blue sea.”

No question, bowel perforation is a risk. And I’m sorry Rachel’s husband and others suffered through it. But on average, the risk isn’t large.

Bowel perforation occurs in about one in 1,700 colonoscopies. That’s not insignificant, of course. But it’s low enough that you can reasonably expect it won’t be a problem.

Risk increases when your doctor finds polyps and removes them. But even then, perforation only occurs in about one in 800 cases.

Physician error is usually not the cause of perforations. But doctors should be alert to any patient who reports post-procedure discomfort or pain.

If a doctor dismisses valid complaints and doesn’t investigate, that’s a serious lapse. And it makes any procedure that much more dangerous.

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