Colonoscopy is the single most popular colon cancer screening technique available. Performed on an outpatient basis, the procedure involves the insertion of a scope with a tiny camera which allows the specialist to view the entire colon and, when necessary, to remove precancerous polyps preventing them from ever developing into cancer. It can also help diagnose other diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, such as inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and diverticular disease.
When to Have a Colonoscopy
Men and women with no personal or family history of colon cancer or other colon issues, should begin colon cancer screening at age 45. The frequency of repeat colonoscopies will be determined based on each patient’s findings. An individual with a large number of precancerous polyps will be asked to return for a repeat colonoscopy sooner than an individual with no polyps. Individuals at an increased risk of colorectal cancer should begin colorectal cancer screening before age 45 and be screened more often.
What to Expect
Patients will be provided with detailed instructions on how to prepare for a colonoscopy. During the day prior to the procedure, patients are required to cleanse the bowel with an oral laxative. This provides for clear visualization of as much of the colon surface as possible allowing the physician to detect abnormalities.
During the exam, patients are sedated and should not feel any discomfort. The doctor inserts a long flexible tube through the rectum and moves it through the entire large intestine. As the tube moves through the intestine, the doctor uses the attached camera to see the lining of the colon, providing the doctor with information about the health of the colon and the presence of any precancerous lesions. If a precancerous polyp is identified, it can be removed immediately during the examination. The procedure itself takes anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes.
After the test, patients stay in a recovery room for about 30 minutes to allow the sedation to wear off. Patients are required to have an adult present to drive them home.