What is Colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy, although not the only screening option, is the most common and best method for finding problems along the surface of the colon. It involves the insertion of a narrow tube through the rectum and throughout the entire large intestine. It allows your doctor to look for any abnormalities and even remove pre-cancerous polyps, before they turn in to cancer.

A recent study provides strong scientific evidence that colonoscopy does indeed help save lives. In the study, the death rate from colorectal cancer was cut by more than 50% in patients who had polyps removed during a colonoscopy.

Why a Colonoscopy Is Performed

A colonoscopy can be done as a screening for colon cancer and other problems. The screening can help your doctor:

  • look for signs of cancers and other problems
  • explore the cause of unexplained changes in bowel habits
  • evaluate symptoms of pain or bleeding located in the abdominal area
  • find a reason for weight loss, chronic constipation, or diarrhea

Everyone over the age of 50 who is at average risk of colon cancer should get a colonoscopy once every 10 years. If you’re at an increased risk, you may need more frequent procedures. The American College of Surgeons estimates that between 76 and 90 percent of colon cancer can be prevented through colonoscopy screening.

How a Colonoscopy Is Performed

Just before your colonoscopy, you’ll change into a hospital gown. Most people get a sedative.

During the procedure, you’ll lie on your side on a padded examination table. Your doctor may position you with your knees close to your chest to get a better angle to your colon.

While you’re on your side and sedated, your doctor will guide a flexible, lighted tube called a colonoscope into your anus. Slowly and gently, they’ll guide it up through the rectum and into the colon. A camera on the end of the colonoscope transmits images to a monitor that your doctor will be watching.

Once the scope is positioned, your doctor will inflate your colon using carbon dioxide gas. This gives them a better view. Your doctor may remove polyps or a tissue sample for biopsy during this procedure. You’ll be well sedated during the entire procedure to prevent anxiousness or pain during the procedure.

The entire procedure takes about 40 minutes to an hour.

Why Is Colonoscopy So Important?

Colonoscopy is important because it is a potentially life-saving procedure that can prevent the development of colon cancer. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths yet it is one of the most preventable types of cancer. Screening with colonoscopy could save more lives.

Colonoscopy does not only find colon cancer but can prevent it by removal of polyps, which are abnormal, precancerous growths in the colon. If polyps are found, they can be removed during colonoscopy, which halts their progression to colon cancer. Typically, colonoscopy is recommended for anyone over age 50, but individuals with increased risk should consult with their doctors.