Six minutes that can save your life

Three minutes versus six minutes. It may not sound like much of a difference at all -- either way, it's just a few minutes. But when it comes to colonoscopy, the difference between three minutes and six minutes could be the difference between life and death.

Six minutes is considered the gold standard for "withdrawal time," or the amount of time it takes to pull the scope from the colon. That's when the doc looks for precancerous cells and growths, and removes polyps.

But some docs cut corners -- maybe they're overconfident, or maybe they just have lunch reservations -- and pull out faster, flying through the procedure in just three minutes.

Well, you know what happens when you hurry, right? You miss things -- and docs who speed through the procedure in three minutes miss more than twice as many polyps and nearly double the amount of precancerous cells and adenomas in the colon as docs who take the full six minutes, according to new research.

Now, I don't think you need a study to know you want a doctor willing to put a few extra minutes into your colon and locating precancerous cells.

The problem, of course, is that most people are under anesthesia during a colonoscopy -- so you don't really know how much time your doc spent hunting for polyps.

That means you have to do a little homework before choosing a doctor -- and don't be afraid to ask him some questions, like how much time he typically spends looking for polyps. Most doctors -- good ones anyway -- can tell you, probably down to the second.

And along with choosing the right doctor, make sure you choose the right procedure -- a real colonoscopy instead of a virtual one. I know virtual procedures may sound better, but patients actually report more comfort and less pain during and after a real colonoscopy. Just as important, with virtual colonoscopy you're exposed to unnecessary radiation and if a polyp or growth is formed you will still need a regular colonoscopy anyway.

There's a lot of debate over many cancer screenings these days and which ones may or may not be necessary. But there's not much debate over colonoscopy. It's one of those areas where both mainstream and holistic physicians agree: These precancerous cells screenings save lives, so be sure to get one yourself.