Colonoscopy 101: Get Answers About this Life-Saving Procedure - PIH Health

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Published on March 19, 2015

Colonoscopy 101: Get Answers About this Lifesaving Procedure

Colonoscopy 101

Colonoscopy 101Colonoscopies save lives. However, there are many misconceptions about colonoscopy that often prevent people from undergoing screening. For starters, the term “colon cancer screening” can be misleading. A major benefit of the procedure is colon cancer prevention.

Polyps are small, benign, precancerous growths found in approximately 40-50% of adults over 50 who have no symptoms. Polyps are the precursors to colon cancer and removing polyps removes the risk of colon cancer. Having the colon examined with a colonoscope is far more likely to result in the detection and removal of a polyp, thereby preventing colon cancer, than it is to find a colon cancer.  If colon cancer is present and it is found early it can be cured 95% of the time.

So, the bottom line is, colonoscopy prevents colon cancer by finding and removing polyps and saves lives by detecting cancer early when it is most curable.

Colonoscopy is a lot easier than most people think. Below are answers to frequently asked questions about this life-saving procedure.

What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a procedure performed by a specialized physician, known as a gastroenterologist, using a long, flexible, narrow tube with lights and a tiny video camera at one end, called a colonoscope. Using the colonoscope, the entire large intestine (the 5 ½ feet of the GI tract) can be examined. During the procedure, the vast majority of polyps can be removed. Larger growths that cannot be removed entirely can be biopsied. Colonoscopy is the only screening method that allows for both the examination of the entire colon and removal of polyps during the same procedure.

Who needs a colonoscopy?

According to the American Cancer Society, the American College of Gastroenterology, the American Gastroenterology Association and other major medical societies, colonoscopy is recommended for all men and women over the age of 50. If there is a family history of colon polyps or colon cancer, screening should start at age 40, or 10 years younger than the age of the family member when diagnosed. Individuals with ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease may be at higher risk for colon cancer and may need to begin screening at an earlier age. These individuals should discuss screening with their gastroenterologist.

Why should I have a colonoscopy?

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths. The good news is that most colon cancers can be prevented. Studies show that 90% of colon cancers could be prevented if everyone would get a screening colonoscopy. In addition, by finding colon cancer in the early stages, the vast majority of patients can be cured. Because of advances in screening, prevention and early detection, there are more than one million survivors of colorectal cancer in the United States today.

What will happen before, during and after the procedure?

Before the colonoscopy can be performed it is imperative that the colon be as clean as possible. People going in for a colonoscopy will be asked to stay on a clear liquid diet for 24 hours prior to the colonoscopy. A laxative drink will be prescribed, usually to be taken the evening before and the morning of the scheduled procedure. After arriving at the screening location, a small catheter will be placed in a vein in the arm. Sedative medications are given, and almost all patients sleep through the entire procedure which takes approximately 20-30 minutes. Patient's generally awaken within a few minutes after the procedure and feel alert and ready to eat within 20-30 minutes. To recover from the sedative medication, patients should rest for the remainder of the day.

How often should I have a colonoscopy?

For average risk individuals over age 50, a colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years.

For high risk individuals, colonoscopy is generally recommended every 3-5 years but these recommendations can vary and should be discussed with your gastroenterologist.

For more information call the PIH Health Colon Cancer Prevention Program at 562.945.4754.

The information in Healthy Living Online is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

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