If you’ve avoided colonoscopies because of the icky prep, help may be on the way
March 20, 2017 12:09 AM
Mark Moran/The Citizens' Voice via AP
Cancer survivor Susan Reese Burke, right, takes a selfie with her daughter Abbey as they walked through an inflatable colon this month as part of National Colon Cancer Awareness Month at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Luzerne County.
By Marlene Cimons / Special to The Washington Post
In a sense, children have had it better than grown-ups when it comes to patient-friendly care. They get to take flavored medications and at least one vaccine (oral polio) that is needle-free, with more probably on the way. Moreover, kids probably also still get the occasional lollipop (or stickers) for putting up with something that hurts.
There are no similar rewards for the rest of us, however, for certain medical procedures that can be painful, uncomfortable or downright disgusting. As a result, many adults simply avoid them. But this may be changing.
Take the colonoscopy, for example. The complaint about this potentially lifesaving screening is always the same: The procedure itself isn’t so bad — it’s the prep.
Getting ready for this exam (in which a physician inserts an instrument into the large intestine to search for inflammation, bleeding, polyps, ulcers and tumors) requires a day of drinking copious amounts of a vile-tasting solution that jolts your body into hours of purging. (Having a lollipop handy here actually might help, but not a red or purple one; these can stain the colon and be mistaken for blood.) The idea is to clean out your digestive system so the physician can get a clear look.
Nevertheless, the experience can be dreadful, and apparently discourages many people from having the screening.
Data suggest that about 40 percent of the people who should get a colonoscopy don’t, mostly because of the prep, according to Douglas Rex, a distinguished professor of medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine. This is true both for those who have had colonoscopies as well as those who haven’t, “suggesting that the word is out,” he says.
But what if patients had something better-tasting to get them through that terrible day? Maybe it could help overcome what Dr. Rex calls the “final frontier of colonoscopy acceptance.”
Such a product probably is on the way, and it could be on the market within the next two years. Researchers are studying shakes (vanilla and strawberry-banana flavored) and food bars (lemon, white chocolate and coconut) that produce the same cleansing but without the nasty taste.
Patients in the early studies seemed to like them. Those drinking the new products were twice as likely as those who used the standard prep solution to be satisfied and four times as likely to recommend it, Dr. Rex says.
The drinks and bars were developed by ColonaryConcepts, a company co-founded by Corey Siegel, director of the inflammatory bowel disease center at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and Joshua Korzenik, director of the Crohn’s and colitis center at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Less invasive screenings that don’t require a prep, such as stool tests, also are available. But they are not as effective.