A colonoscopy is a routine procedure—one that could save your life. It is generally safe and relatively painless, and allows healthcare providers to see the lining of the colon to look for disease and signs of cancer. A colonoscopy is considered the gold standard for detection and prevention of colorectal cancer (CRC).
- CRC, also known as colon cancer, is the 2nd leading cause of death from cancer in the US
of all CRC cases and deaths may be preventable with early detection through timely screening
- A colonoscopy is one of the only cancer screening methods where potential cancers can be removed during the exam
- A colonoscopy can also help healthcare providers diagnose other gastrointestinal disorders
- Disorders like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can strike at a younger age and increase the possibility of CRC
During your colonoscopy procedure, your gastroenterologist will insert a long, flexible tube (about as thick as your finger), called a colonoscope, through the natural cavity of your rectum and colon. You’ll be sedated throughout the process. Patients typically feel little to no pain during the exam.
Your healthcare provider will use the colonoscope to examine your colon for:
- Inflammation (swelling and/or redness)
- Other precancerous lesions and potential cancer
- Other signs of digestive problems
The procedure also allows the healthcare provider to remove polyps before they become cancerous, and take other small samples or biopsies for lab analysis.
After your colonoscopy procedure, your healthcare provider will speak to you about the results and give you a written report.
- The effects of sedation make it unsafe for you to drive or find your way home alone. Arrange for a friend or family member to drive you home
- You may feel some bloating from the procedure and pass some gas. These symptoms should subside within a few hours
- Once you get home:
- Plan on resting for the remainder of the day
- Ease back into eating. Start with a small, light meal and work gradually back to your normal diet
A colonoscopy prep is a prescription medication that cleans out your digestive tract. How? By causing diarrhea over several hours so that the colon is empty. This allows your doctor to see the lining of the colon clearly.
Studies show that up to 25% of patients getting a colonoscopy are inadequately prepped
83% of patients who are inadequately prepped don’t return for a second screening within 3 years
It’s important to follow instructions and do the prep properly. If you arrive for your colonoscopy with a dirty colon, your healthcare provider may have difficulty seeing if there are signs of cancer. Your healthcare provider may not even complete the colonoscopy and may reschedule your procedure—potentially leaving you at greater risk for cancer.
Images courtesy of Douglas K. Rex, MD.
You should always discuss any questions you may have about colonoscopy and colonoscopy prep with your healthcare provider. Download the Discussion Guide for questions to help guide that conversation. Below are answers to some common questions that may help clear things up.
A colonoscopy is the gold standard for detection and prevention of colorectal cancer (CRC)—which is the 2nd leading cause of death from cancer in the US.
A colonoscopy can help your healthcare provider find and remove polyps in the colon before they develop into cancer. If cancer is already present, finding it early before it causes symptoms or spreads can increase your chances of a full recovery.
Since the mid-1980s the death rate for CRC has been dropping—due in part to increased awareness and screenings, like colonoscopies.
The American Cancer Society recommends that everyone, starting at age 50, get a colonoscopy every 10 years. That’s for people with average risk. Your healthcare provider will determine if you’re at higher risk and need a colonoscopy sooner or more frequently.
During the procedure, your healthcare team will make you as comfortable as possible. You’ll be fitted with an IV (intravenous line) to give you medication to sedate you. Patients typically feel little to no pain during the exam.
The effects of the prep may last for a few hours after you finish it. After your procedure, you may feel some bloating and pass some gas. This is due to air being introduced during the procedure to help the colonoscope pass into your colon. These symptoms should subside within a few hours. The effects of sedation may take longer to fully wear off. Don’t plan on driving or operating machinery until after you’ve had a full night’s sleep.
- What’s my risk factor for colorectal cancer?
- Is it time for me to get a colonoscopy?
- How do I have to prepare for my colonoscopy?
- Is PREPOPIK® right for me?
- Can I continue to take my medications during the prep?
- Who will actually perform the colonoscopy?
- How far in advance do I need to arrive at the facility?
- How long will the colonoscopy take?
- How will I be sedated? What sedative options are available?