According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Evidence from medical studies has shown that removing polyps (small tumor-like growths that form inside your bowels) during a colonoscopy reduces risk for colorectal cancer significantly. This procedure also allows earlier detection of colon cancer, often at the stage when it is easier to cure.
A colonoscopy allows the doctor performing the test to see the entire colon from anus to the top of the large intestine and remove polyps. It is performed with a colonoscope, a thin, long, flexible instrument with a lighted lens or video camera at its end.
During colonoscopy, the scope is inserted carefully through the rectum and guided through the colon, allowing your physician to remove polyps or take samples of tissues for biopsies during the procedure.
It is recommended that colon cancer screening begin at age 50 for the general population who are at average risk. If you have a family history or other potential risk factors for colon cancer, please discuss the benefits of earlier screening with your physician.
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Before the colonoscopy begins, an IV needle will be inserted to infuse medicines. Most patients will have no pain during the procedure and will probably not remember the colonoscopy itself. Most colonoscopies are completed with moderate sedation.
After your colonoscopy, you’ll need to rest for 30-45 minutes in the recovery area until the sedatives have worn off. You will need someone to drive you home, but you’ll be able to return to your regular activities the next day.
Because the lining of the colon must be completely clean to provide the best view, bowel preparation the day before the colonoscopy is important. A clear liquid diet and strong laxatives will be prescribed for you by your GI physician. The laxatives will produce a great deal of watery diarrhea.
Depending on what is found during your colonoscopy, your doctor will recommend the right time for a follow-up colonoscopy. If cancer is discovered, you’ll be referred to a surgeon or medical oncologist for treatment.
Although it is rare, call your doctor immediately if you have severe abdominal pain, fever, bloody bowel movements, or dizziness or weakness after your colonoscopy.