Colonoscopies: Why So Important?
What is a colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is a screening procedure that enables a physician to look inside your entire large intestine. The procedure is used to check for early signs of cancer in the colon and rectum, and allows the physician to find and remove precancerous polyps before they can grow into cancer. To perform this procedure, the doctor uses a colonoscope. This is a flexible instrument that evaluates the entire colon and can remove polyps.
Can a colonoscopy prevent colon cancer?
Yes. Colon cancer is highly curable if caught early. The detection and removal of colon polyps can prevent colon cancer. Screening for colon cancer is very important, not only because it is so effective, but also because colon cancer tumors may not produce any detectable symptoms until they have advanced to a life-threatening stage. Despite the high cure rate, colon cancer is the number three cancer killer in the U.S.
What preparation is required before a colonoscopy?
In order for the doctor to see inside of the rectum and the large intestine clearly, your bowels need to be as cleaned out as possible. The most popular preparation used for colonoscopy involves drinking a volume of solution of polyethylene glycol (PEG), This solution causes diarrhea that effectively rids the colon of its contents. Typically this process is started the night before the procedure. We also encourage patients to drink a lot of clear fluids until a few hours before the procedure.
How long does the exam last and is it painful?
The screening typical takes about 30 minutes and is usually not painful. Our patients are given an intravenous sedation or “twilight sedation” where they become very drowsy, but comfortable and still breathing on their own. With this sedation, most patients do not even remember the procedure.
What if they find a polyp or tumor?
If a small or large polyp, tumor, or anything else abnormal is found, it will be removed during the procedure. The sample will be sent to a lab for a doctor to look at under a microscope to check for cancer or pre-cancer cells.
When should I have a colonoscopy?
The procedure is recommended every ten years starting at age 50 unless you have colorectal symptoms or a family history of colon cancer, polyps, or inflammatory bowel disease. Colorectal cancer screening generally starts at age 50 because colon cancer risk increases with age and the majority of cases occur in people ages 50 and over.
By Maude Oetking, MD, and Walter Voigt, MD
Drs. Maude Oetking and Walter Voigt are general surgeons at Weeks Medical Center. For more information on colonoscopy screenings, please talk with your primary care provider or call 603-788-5095.