What is a Colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is a test that allows a special doctor, called a gastroenterologist, to examine the inner lining of your rectum and colon. During a colonoscopy, a thin, flexible tube with a very small video camera is inserted into the large intestine. Your doctor takes pictures to check for abnormal growths (polyps) or other colon lining changes and may remove the polyp or take tissue samples for testing.
One to two days before your colonoscopy, you will need to clean out your colon. This process, which involves drinking clear liquids and a special solution, will be explained to you in advance. When you arrive for your colonoscopy, you will get medicine to help you relax and feel comfortable prior to and during the examination - the vast majority of those undergoing this test sleep through the duration of the entire exam. The medicine will make you sleepy, and you more than likely will not remember much about the procedure itself.
If polyps are detected, they can usually be removed during the colonoscopy. Your doctor will share your test results as soon as they are available—often the day of the procedure.
Neal Shindel MD, a PIH Health gastroenterologist, talks more about colonoscopies and the importance of being screened.
Neal Shindel MD
Schedule Your Colonoscopy Today
Colon cancer is the nation's second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. (men and women combined).
If you are over 50 or have a family history of colon cancer, get screened today.
What U.S. President was a colon cancer survivor?
Answer: Ronald Reagan, 40th U.S. President
The former President had a colonoscopy in 1985 to remove cancerous polyps from his colon. The most important lesson of Reagan's colonoscopy procedure was how easy it was, and how cancerous polyps can be removed before they become problematic.
PIH Health Colon Cancer Prevention Program
Did you know you can prevent cancer with a screening test available at PIH Health? Colonoscopy is a test used to detect and remove polyps that can potentially lead to colorectal cancer. Although colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in the country, it has a high cure rate—over 95%—if detected early.
See colonoscopy preparation instructions.
For more information on all PIH Health screening options, click here or visit PIHHealth.org/Screenings.
Reasons for a Colonoscopy
Both men and women should be screened beginning at age 50—or earlier if you have risk factors. Your personal risk of colon cancer increases with age and is higher if you have:
- Had polyps or previous colorectal cancer
- A history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
- One or more family members who has had colon cancer or advanced colon polyps
- Inherited gene defects such as Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) or Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colon Cancer (HNPCC)
- Certain racial and ethnic background; African Americans and Jews of Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi Jews)
Your risk factors are also higher if you are overweight or physically inactive, smoke or use tobacco, eat too much fat or red meat or drink too much alcohol.
Other reasons to have a colonoscopy include:
- Blood when you have a bowel movement
- A change in bowel movements or the feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
- Unexplained weight loss
- Inflammatory bowel disease, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
- Persistent diarrhea
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Ongoing, unexplained pain in your abdomen or rectum
Tests for Colorectal Cancer
Although colonoscopy is the only testing method with the ability to detect and remove precancerous polyps during the same exam for the entire colon, other screening tests include:
- Colonoscopy: Colonoscopy is the gold standard for colon cancer prevention and early detection. Colonoscopy is an examination of the entire colon using a flexible tube with lights and a video chip. It is the most reliable test to find colon cancers and in addition enables physicians to identify and remove precancerous polyps (small growths that have the potential to turn into cancer). The recommended age to start is at age 45 for African-American individuals and age 50 for all other ethnic groups. The test should be repeated in 10 years for average risk individuals and every two to five years for high risk individuals. This test is covered by most insurance companies.
- Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT): The FIT test is performed on a small sample of feces to detect trace amounts of blood which can be shed from colon cancers. This test will detect approximately 70 percent of colon cancers but will not detect the majority of colon polyps that can potentially turn into cancer. This test should be performed annually starting at age 45 for African-American individuals and at age 50 for all other ethnic groups. This test is covered by most insurance companies.
- Cologuard: This test is performed on a sample of stool and can detect trace amounts of blood and additionally checks for abnormal DNA material that is often shed from colon cancers. This test is capable of detecting approximately 94 percent of colon cancers but also has significant false positive rates and will not detect the majority of precancerous colon polyps. This test should be performed every three years starting at age 45 for African-American individuals and age 50 for all other ethnic groups. This test is not covered by most insurance companies.
- ColoVantage: This is a test performed on a blood sample and can detect abnormal DNA released from colon cancers. This test is capable of detecting approximately 70 percent of colon cancers and will not detect the majority of pre-cancerous colon polyps. Although this test has been FDA approved there are no standard guidelines for how often this test should be performed. This test is not covered by most insurance companies.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy: This test examines the lower one third of the colon and can detect both cancers and polyps. Although this test was popular for screening in the past, it is rarely used as a primary screening tool today.
- Radiologic testing like Barium enema or Virtual CT Colonography scan: This is a special CAT scan of the colon and can detect most cancers and many larger polyps. It can miss smaller cancers and most small polyps. It also has a significant false positive rate. This procedure is recommended every five years. This test is not covered by most insurance companies.
Find out more about colonoscopy and other colon cancer screening tests in our online Health Library.
Fast, Cost-Efficient Scheduling
If you’re due for a screening colonoscopy, our direct access program can save you time and money. Contact us yourself or ask your primary care doctor to call. Our clinical coordinator will ask about your medical history and review details of the procedure. If your health permits, we’ll schedule your appointment directly, eliminating the need for an office visit.
What is a Colonoscopy? How much are colonoscopies?
To learn more, contact our direct access colonoscopy program at 562.967.2656.