Colonoscopy plays an important role in preventing colorectal cancer because precancerous polyps can be detected and removed during the same exam when they are discovered. Colorectal cancer, often referred to as colon cancer, develops in the colon or the rectum (known as the large bowel or large intestine).
And, if you’re turning 50 this year, there’s no better birthday present to give yourself than a screening colonoscopy. It may not be what you had in mind to celebrate a milestone, but there are 50,000 reasons why you should consider it. That’s the number of people who die each year from colorectal cancer – the 2nd leading cause of cancer-related deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 22 million adults ages 50-75 still need to be tested.
A colonoscopy enables your doctor to examine the lining of your colon (large intestine) for abnormalities by inserting a flexible tube as thick as your finger into your anus and slowly advancing it into the rectum and colon. This is an outpatient procedure and is used as a cancer screening test or for a number of other symptoms or even as a treatment option.
All adults are at risk for colorectal cancer, even those that live healthy lives. Some people are at very high risk. They have a particular gene mutation that predisposes them to developing polyps. Finding and removing benign polyps can substantially reduce the risk of colon cancer. Nearly 25% of people in their 50’s develop polyps and 5% of these are cancerous.
Please click on the appropriate bowel prep instructions ordered by your physician. They can be found at the bottom of the page. Adequate preparation is VITAL to full and complete testing.
REGARDING MEDICATIONS: In general, all medications should be continued in routine dosage EXCEPT medications that will affect blood clotting. If you are on any sort of blood clotting medication, your physician should approve you stopping the medicine. Please talk with your physician if you are a Diabetic or on blood thinners.
Polyps are abnormal growths in the colon lining that are usually benign (noncancerous). They vary in size from a tiny dot to several inches. Your doctor can’t always tell a benign polyp from a malignant (cancerous) polyp by its outer appearance, so he or she will send removed polyps for analysis. Because cancer begins in polyps, removing them is an important means of preventing colorectal cancer.
Polyps are removed or destroyed depending on the size. Tiny polyps will be removed by burning or removing them with wire loops called snares or with biopsy instruments. Your doctor will use a technique called ‘snare polypectomy” to remove larger polyps. Your doctor will pass a wire loop through the colonoscope and will remove the polyp from the intestinal wall using an electrical current. You should feel no pain during the polypectomy.
Colonoscopy is well-tolerated and rarely causes much pain. You might feel pressure, bloating or cramping during the procedure. Your doctor might give you a sedative to help you relax and better tolerate any discomfort.
You will lie on your side or back while your doctor slowly advances a colonoscope through your large intestine to examine the lining. Your doctor will examine the lining again as he or she slowly withdraws the colonoscope. The procedure itself usually takes 15 to 60 minutes, although you should plan on two to three hours for waiting, preparation and recovery.
In some cases, the doctor cannot pass the colonoscope through the entire colon to where it meets the small intestine. Although another examination might be needed, your doctor might decide that the limited examination is sufficient.
Colonoscopy and polypectomy are generally safe when performed by doctors who have been specially trained and are experienced in these procedures.
One possible complication is a perforation, or tear, through the bowel wall that could require surgery. Bleeding might occur at the site of biopsy or polypectomy, but it’s usually minor. Bleeding can stop on its own or be controlled through the colonoscope; it rarely requires follow-up treatment. Some patients might have a reaction to the sedatives or complications from heart or lung disease.
Although complications after colonoscopy are uncommon, it’s important to recognize early signs of possible complications. Contact our office if you notice severe abdominal pain, fever and chills, or rectal bleeding of more than one-half cup. Note that bleeding can occur several days after polypectomy.
Your physician will explain the results of the examination to you, although you’ll probably have to wait for the results of any biopsies performed. It typically takes one week to get the results back on any biopsies performed. After your physician has reviewed your report, his nurse will call you with the results.
Someone must drive you home and stay with you. Even if you feel alert after the procedure, your judgment and reflexes could be impaired for the rest of the day. You might have some cramping or bloating because of the air introduced into the colon during the examination. This should disappear quickly when you pass gas.
You should be able to eat after the examination, but your doctor might restrict your diet and activities, especially after polypectomy.