When you become a certain age, or questionable stomach and bowel symptoms require further exploration, your primary doctor will recommend you undergo a colonoscopy. While the thought of the procedure scares many patients, routine and regular colonoscopies are one of the bests and easiest ways to detect colorectal cancer, polyps and other colon and rectal concerns.
Colorectal cancer – cancer that starts in the colon or rectum – is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the United States. But it can be treatable – if found early.
During a colonoscopy a long tube is inserted into the rectum with a video camera allowing doctors to see inside the colon. The procedure is quick, painless and nothing to fear, says Marianna Zeichen, MD, a colon and rectal surgeon for Jackson Health System.
“Patients tend to be nervous, but then are often surprised at how quick and painless the procedure actually is,” she said.
Below she answers some of the most common questions patients have about the procedure in hopes that more people will undergo these important screenings.
Why is a colonoscopy important?
A colonoscopy is the best way for your doctor to see if you have developed polyps - abnormal tissue growths in the colon - or colorectal cancer.
While there are other methods of checking the stool for signs of concern, they are not as thorough as a colonoscopy. And, even if other tests are performed, a colonoscopy may still be necessary. For example, if blood is found in the stool, a colonoscopy is still needed to see what is causing the problem.
What preparation is needed before a colonoscopy?
The day before your colonoscopy, you will have to stick to a clear, liquid diet, such as broth, tea and Jell-O.
You will also need to drink a liquid laxative. In the past, patients have had to drink about four gallons of the liquid, but now, many patients only require about one glass of the laxative drink. This preparation ensures that doctors can get a clear, unobstructed view of the colon during a colonoscopy.
Will I be awake for the procedure?
We sedate patients so they are able to comfortably sleep through the entire procedure.
How long does a colonoscopy take?
A colonoscopy takes less than 30 minutes. You’ll be wheeled into the procedure room, be given anesthesia to put you to sleep and, before you know it, you’ll be waking up in recovery preparing to go home.
Before you leave, you’ll hear from your doctor about your colonoscopy results. You will need to bring someone with you who can drive you home since you were sedated.
Will it hurt?
Nope, a colonoscopy is essentially painless. Some people who have hemorrhoids may experience some discomfort, but that is rare. (Actually, sometimes we can treat and remove hemorrhoids during a colonoscopy procedure, if a patient desires to have both done at the same time. Speak to your doctor to see if this is possible.)
The most important thing to remember is a colonoscopy can help you and your doctor detect this common type of cancer early, therefore improving your chances of treatment being successful. So if you are 45-years-old or have a family history of colorectal cancer, talk to you doctor about scheduling your routine screening.
Marianna Zeichen, MD, is a Jackson Medical Group colon and rectal surgeon at Jackson South Medical Center’s Colorectal and Minimally Invasive Surgery Specialists,. For more information, visit https://jacksonhealth.org/medical-group or call 305-271-0300.