Chicago, IL – There are very few medical tests that inspire such dread, such worry and such just plain squeamishness than a colonoscopy. The procedure seems to be shrouded in rumor and subject to whispered, ill-informed conversations, all seemingly designed to deter instead of encourage a call to schedule the screening. With colonoscopy now recognized as a cancer-preventing life saver and strongly prescribed to those over 50 as a regular health screening, much like a blood pressure or cholesterol check, more and more people are being forced to confront that dread and actually make that call.
For many people, the fact that the procedure requires a hospital visit is a barrier. Those who prefer privacy, those with sensitive immune systems and those who just don’t want to wait for hours as emergency procedures may take precedence are all uncomfortable with the hospital setting.
Dr. Darrien Gaston, M.D. is committed to changing all this. Dr. Gaston is board-certified in Gastroenterology and a Fellow of both the American College of Gastroenterology and the American College of Physicians. He believes very strongly in clear patient education and, in May, added in-office procedure capability to his clinic in the Beverly neighborhood.
“We are one of the few nationally accredited office-based endoscopy centers on the south side of Chicago. It’s a very unique facility.”
Dr. Gaston’s clinic, Metropolitan Gastroenterology Consultants (www.metrogichicago.com) at 104th Street and Western Avenue, is state-of-the-art, completely comfortable and, of course, nationally accredited. “We implement the same hospital standards for disinfection of equipment and patient monitoring, using board certified anesthesiologists. Here, a screening is delivered in a setting that makes people feel at ease. We have a confidential, elegant waiting room and because we are respectful in our scheduling and have virtually no emergencies to tend to, patients are not made to wait for hours while possibly sitting next to someone who may have a contagious condition.” Decorated in warm earth tones and natural materials, the waiting room is more like a welcoming living room than a medical facility.
Education is a significant factor to Dr. Gaston. “I don’t want to meet a patient for the first time just minutes before a procedure. Patients have questions, they want to be informed and they want to know their physician, to feel comfortable asking those questions.”
Adrienne L., agrees. “My questions were answered completely and to a satisfying degree. I was pleasantly surprised by the ease and professionalism I experienced with Dr. Gaston and his staff.”
Dr. Gaston conducts pre-procedure appointments with each patient to fully understand their health history and to give them a complete picture of what a colonoscopy or endoscopy entails. Preparation, procedure and possible results are all discussed. “Many people have heard horror stories about preparation and then, during our appointment, realize that it’s really not that big of a deal. It might be a little inconvenient but it’s definitely not the horrible ordeal that people imagine.”
The procedure itself, he explains, can be very quick and is painless. The nurse will begin an IV in the prep room. In the procedure room, the patient is given a sedative for comfort and relaxation. Blood pressure, heart rate and blood oxygen levels are all monitored during the procedure and recovery. The anesthesiologist administers a sedative, which places the patient in a “twilight” state. “It is not necessary to use general anesthesia, like during a major surgery. The patient is sedated just enough to tolerate the procedure, which is usually very quick, depending on the findings and the advanced preparation of the colon,” says Dr. Gaston.
While Dr. Gaston performs the colonoscopy or endoscopy, he looks for any abnormal tissue or polyps. Polyps are the precancerous lesions that develop into colon cancer. Those are removed during the procedure, saving the patient a surgery. Both tissues and polyps are later biopsied.
The procedure can take as little as 15 minutes depending upon the size and number of polyps and abnormalities. After careful monitoring to ensure complete recovery, the patient is discharged to a driver’s care, usually a family member or friend.
Dr. Gaston smiles, “Our location is surrounded by restaurants and many people take advantage of that after their fast and procedure.”
About half of those tested are polyp-free and they can wait 10 years before a follow-up colonoscopy. For those who did have polyps removed, Dr. Gaston recommends returning in 5 years.
“Significant factors in the development of polyps and colon cancer are smoking, eating a lot of fat like red meat, obesity and family history. In fact, if you have an immediate family member – your dad, mom or brother or sister – who has had polyps or colon cancer, your screenings should begin at age 40. It is recommended that African-Americans begin at age 45.”
Dr. Gaston realizes that each time he removes polyps, he is making an enormous difference in his patients’ health and this fact further animates the commitment in his voice. “I had a 27-year-old woman come in with a vague complaint and when I performed the screening, I saw the tiniest lesion; it could easily have been missed. I removed it and the biopsy showed it was cancerous. You see, I saved her life.”
The procedure removed the cancer entirely and the patient did not require chemo, radiation or additional surgery.
“We understand how vital screening is to long-term survival. We understand that prevention is so much easier than cancer treatment. Patient survival rate is 100% when colon cancer is prevented.”
Prevention is also much less expensive than cancer treatment. In 2001, Medicare recognized the value, both to the health of their patients and financial impact, of screenings. Private insurance quickly followed suit, so a screening is typically covered. “A screening for colon cancer is now on everyone’s regular checklist, just like blood sugar, a PAP test or a prostate exam.”
Dr. Gaston says, “Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in this country and it’s really completely preventable. A screening prevents this cancer – it’s really that simple. Because if you wait for symptoms, it may be too late.”