Colonoscopy is a specialized examination of the large bowel done with a thin, flexible electronic camera (colonoscope). The purpose of a colonoscopy is to detect polyps or other findings in the colon. Colonoscopy is considered to be the best and most accurate way to detect and prevent colon cancer.
At the Center for Health & Cancer Prevention, colonoscopy is done under a light anesthesia administered by a Certified Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA). This makes the procedure painless, and virtually all patients awake from the procedure without any memory of the colonoscopy.
A colonoscopy in our office takes an average of about 10 minutes.
One of the most common reasons for performing a colonoscopy is preventative. Colon cancers almost always arise from an initially benign polyp (known as an adenoma). These small growths are easily and painlessly removed at the time of your colonoscopy, thus eliminating or greatly reducing your risk of colon cancer.
Other reasons colonoscopy might be required are:
- You have experienced rectal bleeding or seen blood in your bowel movement
- You have had a recent change in your bowel habits
- You have unexplained abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation
- You have unexplained pain in the rectal or anal area
- You are anemic
- Your primary physician found a trace of blood on a chemical test of your stool
It is important to note that you are at higher risk of developing colorectal cancer if you have any of the following:
- You have a family history of polyps or colon cancer
- You yourself have had breast cancer
- You are significantly overweight i.e. your BMI is 35 or greater
- You have had prostate cancer
- You are a smoker
Colonoscopy is an extremely safe procedure. Rare complications include bowel injury, bleeding, or an anesthetic problem but are very rare (between 1 in 1,000 and 1 in 5,000). On the other hand, colon cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the US affecting 1 in 19 of all men and 1 in 20 women. Therefore, the minimal risk of a colonoscopy is usually greatly overshadowed by the risk of colon cancer.
Colonoscopy is performed after a 1 day preparation of the colon using lavage or laxative solutions to eliminate any waste material from the colon. Most people find that preparation is the most challenging aspect of having a colonoscopy, compared to the procedure itself, where you are completely asleep. The quality of the examination depends on a good ‘clean-out,’ so preparation is very important.
More information on how to prepare for a colonoscopy can be found HERE.