My first colonoscopy
Published: January 10, 2020
For many years now— and certainly the last six as a staff member of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation – I have heard many a tale of what it’s like to have a colonoscopy. Frequently those anecdotes include the unpleasantness of the prep and the joys of propofol. I am not a Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis patient and have never had a medical condition that necessitated a colonoscopy. But seeing that I am now of a certain age—and no, there’s no need to reveal the exact number, you all get the gist—my doctor encouraged me to have my first colonoscopy, which I did last Monday. I must admit (and apologize to the IBD patients who do this all the time and clearly don’t relish the process) that I was looking forward to it. I suspected it would offer me insight into a process that is a necessary part of all IBD patients’ care and hopefully give me greater understanding of just one of the struggles of being someone with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
First things first though…the incredible Dr. Mark Pochapin and his truly wonderful staff at New York University did the procedure. And among the many interesting and important things he shared about my results was that, and I quote, “You have the colon of a 20-year-old.” I literally made him write that down and sign it! As someone who is decidedly not 20, for me to hear that any part of me looks like that of a 20-year-old is indeed a joyous occasion, worthy of memorializing by sharing it here.
On a more serious and important note, while I learned that my colon is in very good shape, they also found one small precancerous polyp (an abnormal growth), which they removed. For those who may not know, over 90% of new cases of colorectal cancer occur in people who are 50 or older. So, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends regular screening and removal of polyps before they turn into cancer, beginning at age 50, as a key to preventing colorectal cancer. So, as of today I am polyp-free, which is a good thing.
But now having had a colonoscopy, I can assure you it isn’t something I would want to do twice a year, or every year, or even every other year for that matter. The prep is in fact no fun (though some excellent tips from Foundation staffer and IBD patient Claire Bonti definitely helped), you lose a day or two from your life while prepping and undergoing the procedure; there is cost involved; and, for many people, there is a good deal of anxiety and a real emotional toll. And, I’m very aware that colonoscopies are just one of the many quality-of-life-draining activities that our IBD patients deal with all the time.
The difficulty of it all is just one more reason I’m thrilled that inside the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation’s $30 million annual research budget, and portfolio of 200 research projects, there are several ongoing investigations aimed at improving the quality of patients’ lives. Some of those projects are specifically focused on new ways to monitor intestinal inflammation that could minimize the need for invasive procedures such as colonoscopies and endoscopies, while still gaining critical feedback on what’s going on in your gut.
Two such investigations are currently underway at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Texas, Dallas. Scientists at MIT are working on creating a capsule that IBD patients could swallow (like a pill) to gain important information about the status of their condition and related risks, including colon cancer. Researchers there, led by Timothy Lu, MD, PhD, have developed several versions of such a capsule, and they’re planning to use funding from the Foundation to move their concept forward for IBD. In the future, the plan is to have all the information collected by the capsule transmitted to a patient’s smartphone for them to share with their provider.
Similarly, thanks to the support of the Foundation, scientists at the University of Texas, Dallas, are studying inflammatory biomarkers—measurable indicators of disease activity that are secreted in SWEAT! The first step: demonstrate that an innovative bracelet embedded with biosensors can detect the signs of an impending IBD flare. Imagine that patients could wear a bracelet that would regularly monitor the level of inflammation in their gut and alert them when that level is dangerously high.
These are just some of the many ways the Foundation is using its resources to advance the care of all IBD patients and help make challenging but important procedures more tolerable or even a thing of the past. You can learn more about our ongoing research efforts on our website here.
Michael Osso is the President & CEO of the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation.