A colonoscopy is a test that allows your doctor to look at your entire colon for signs of colorectal cancer. The test also looks for small growths called colon polyps, which can turn into cancer within 5-10 years if left untreated.
Colonoscopies are highly effective exams because they can spot colorectal cancer early when it is most able to be treated. And if your doctor finds a colon polyp, he or she can remove it before it has a chance to turn into cancer, thereby preventing future problems.
Around your 45th birthday, your doctor will recommend that you have a colonoscopy. If you have other risk factors for developing colorectal cancer or if you are experiencing symptoms of colorectal cancer, your doctor may recommend that you have a colonoscopy at a younger age.
If your doctor recommends that you have a colonoscopy, it’s important to schedule the exam as soon as possible. Waiting too long to have the exam could increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer or, if colon cancer is found, decrease your chances of survival.
Before your colonoscopy, you will need to so your doctor can have a clear view of the inside of your colon. The day before your procedure, you will need to drink a liquid laxative mixture to help empty your bowels and only consume clear liquids to keep your bowels clear.
Your doctor will provide you with instructions for your prep and tips to help make the process as comfortable as possible. You should also let your doctor know about any other health conditions or medications you are taking.
Your colonoscopy will be performed while you are under anesthesia, so you will need to ask someone to drive you home after your procedure. Your nursing team will insert an IV line that will be used to give you medications to help you relax.
During the 20-30 minute procedure, your doctor will insert a thin, flexible tube called a colonoscope. The tube also has a small camera on the end that transmits an image of the inside of your colon to a screen. Using the image, your doctor will thoroughly examine your entire colon. If your doctor finds a colon polyp, he or she will use a special tool to remove it.
After your colonoscopy, you will be taken to our recovery area. Your doctor will meet with you to discuss the results of your exam and give you follow-up instructions. It’s a good idea to have a loved one with you when you speak to the doctor because you may still be feeling the effects of the anesthesia.
Depending on the results of your exam, your doctor will let you know if you need follow-up care. Your doctor will let you know when you should schedule your next colonoscopy.
You may feel some mild cramping or bloating, but you should be able to resume your normal diet shortly after the procedure. You will not be able to drive or drink alcohol for 24 hours.
A colonoscopy is the best colorectal cancer screening test because it also allows your doctor to prevent colorectal cancer. Other non-colonoscopy screening tests look for signs of blood, and in some cases, DNA markers, in your stool that can be signs of colorectal cancer.
The problem with these non-colonoscopy screenings is that they do not identify colon cancer in its earliest stages. A positive result on one of these tests could mean that you already have an advanced case of colon cancer that is causing bleeding. They also are more likely to give “false positive” results if you have another condition that is causing bleeding, such as hemorrhoids.
Having a colonoscopy could save your life. If your doctor has recommended that you have a colonoscopy, don’t wait! Schedule your procedure as soon as you are able.