Colon cancer often begins as a growth called a polyp inside the colon. Finding and removing these polyps can help prevent cancer. Colonoscopy is a screening test that is used to detect polyps as well as colon cancer. Your doctor can remove polyps, if you have any, during the colonoscopy. Recent advances in the medications used for bowel preparation and procedure sedation have significantly improved the patient experience.
When to Get a Colonoscopy
The American Cancer Society and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend people with an average risk for colon cancer be screened for the disease starting at age 45. Most people will only need one screening every 10 years. Ask your primary care provider what is right for you.
Preparing for a Colonoscopy
Before a colonoscopy, you will receive instructions on how to cleanse your bowel for the exam. Your doctor will provide detailed instructions and likely a prescription for the necessary medications. The prep causes diarrhea, so it is a good idea to stay home, near a bathroom. Prep usually begins the night before the procedure.
It is extremely important that you follow the instructions your doctor provides. If there is stool remaining in your colon, your doctor may have a hard time seeing clearly to find and remove precancerous polyps.
During a Colonoscopy
You will have a colonoscopy performed in the hospital or outpatient center. A typical colonoscopy takes about 30 to 60 minutes. You will receive medications through an IV before the procedure to keep you comfortable. During the procedure, you will lie on your side. Your doctor will guide a colonoscope — a thin, flexible tube with a camera on the tip — into your rectum and through your colon.
If your doctor finds any polyps, they will likely remove them and send them to the lab for testing. If your doctor sees any other abnormalities, they may perform a biopsy, where small pieces of tissue are removed and sent to a pathologist for examination.
After a Colonoscopy
Following the procedure, you will recover for 30 to 60 minutes before you go home. You will need to arrange for a ride home ahead of time. You will not be able to drive for the rest of the day in order to give the sedatives time to completely wear off. You may experience symptoms such as abdominal cramping or bloating for about an hour after the procedure.
If your doctor performed a biopsy, you may have some light bleeding from your rectum. Follow all of your doctor’s instructions on how to care for yourself after the colonoscopy. You should feel back to normal the next day.
The experienced team at Emerson Health Gastroenterology includes fellowship-trained gastroenterologists John Dowd, DO, Andrea Fribush, MD, Jennifer Nayor, MD, and Julio Ayala, MD. Our practice is located in a state-of-the-art outpatient center in Concord, Massachusetts, where all of your digestive health care needs will be supported — from routine screenings, such as colonoscopies, to chronic care management. To learn more and make an appointment, visit emersondigestivecenter.com or call 978-287-3835.