The rock group ZZ Top once wrote a song, Tube Snake Boogey and as they are from Texas, I assumed there actually was a such a critter. It turns out no such snake exists, and it means, depending on who you ask, a boogey (surf) board or it’s a sexual reference. However, for me tube snake boogey is the perfect term for a colonoscopy. A colonoscope is a flexible tool, about five and half feet long, that is inserted through the anus to examine the entire length of your large intestine. On the end of the tool is a camera. There is also a loop on the end where, if the doctor spots a polyp, she can snare it, cut, it and cauterize it in one step. Because there are three 90 degree turns in your colon, the procedure would be very uncomfortable if not done under light sedation.
To prepare for the colonoscopy, the day before the procedure you follow a liquid diet and do a colon cleansing using laxatives and a very nasty tasting liquid prep. You’re supposed to drink a gallon of the liquid within a 6 – 8 hour period and trust me, by the time you’re finished drinking the bottle, you don’t want to go through the prep for long, long time.
Colonoscopy is an example of evidence-based medicine, as it’s demonstrated to reduce the incidence of colon cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health, the incidence of colon cancer has been declining and the medical community agrees much of this is due to early screening, diagnosis, and treatment. Per NCI data, in 1992 there were about 57 new cases of colon cancer per 100,000 people, whereas in 2015 there were about 37 new cases; a 35% decrease. Deaths due to colon cancer have also declined.
Catching and removing precancerous polyps costs less than treating someone with colon cancer, which includes surgery to remove part of the colon and follow-up with chemotherapy. Colonoscopy is also very cost effective because the procedure has been standardized.
It has long been recommended individuals obtain a baseline colonoscopy at age 50 and, depending on the results, at least every five years thereafter. However, due to the increase of obesity, high consumption of processed foods, and lack of exercise, the American Cancer Society found the incidence of colon cancer has been increasing in younger adults and now advocates colonoscopy when you turn age 45.
So, how does this relate to universal health care? Under the plan I’m proposing when you turn 45, you’ll receive a letter from the National Health Insurance Program advising you to obtain a colonoscopy. The letter will describe why it’s in your best interest to have the procedure and what the procedure involves. The letter will include contact information for providers in your area who do colonoscopies. Finally, the letter will remind you this is one of the many benefits you receive when you pay your health insurance transaction tax.
Preventive screening such as colonoscopy and universalhealth care fit like a hand and glove. Theprocess may be inconvenient, but the results are well worth it in lives saved. Screening more people and early diagnosis will increase initial outlays, but costs saved by preventing more inexpensive, intrusive treatments will lower total costs for treating colon cancer. Another good reason to advocate for universal health care.