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Colonoscopy - A screening that can prevent cancer

Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer death in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). To prevent colorectal cancer, we recommend scheduling a colonoscopy beginning at age 50.

Find it early

Having symptoms doesn't necessarily mean you have cancer, but they should always be investigated. Getting them checked could ease your mind, or it could save your life.

Most colorectal cancers start as abnormal growths, called polyps, on the lining of the intestines. These polyps can be removed before they develop into cancer. Many early colorectal cancers can also be treated successfully. According to the ACS, survival rates drop dramatically once cancer spreads to other parts of the body.

A colonoscopy screening is the best tool for finding polyps or colorectal cancer early.

Colonoscopy guidelines

Even if you are not experiencing symptoms, a colonoscopy is still recommended beginning at age 50. A colonoscopy is the only test that can both find and prevent cancer.

If you have risk factors, such as a family history of colorectal cancer, polyps or inflammatory bowel disease, your provider may recommend that you start screening earlier or be screened more often.

A colonoscopy may also be recommended at any age if you are having other symptoms, such as:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Change in bowel habits for more than a few days
  • Cramping or steady stomach pain
  • Blood in your stool or from your rectum

Scheduling a colonoscopy

Your primary care provider can help you decide which screening program is right for you. If it is determined that you should have a colonoscopy, they will refer you to one of us.

We will first schedule a consult appointment. During the consult, we will talk about what you can expect, the preparation, and then we will schedule the colonoscopy.

Colonoscopy preparation

The type of bowel preparation we typically utilize is a mixture of MiraLax and Gatorade. We split that into two parts - one the night before the colonoscopy and one the morning of the colonoscopy.

Sometimes, we use other options - most often GoLYTELY. This prep is an additional volume and doesn't have as good of a flavor, so we try to use the MiraLax and Gatorade, which most people tolerate pretty well.

You will also have to take some laxative pills prior to the bowel prep, as well.

The other part of the prep includes a clear liquid diet the day prior to and the day of the colonoscopy. We encourage patients to continue to stay hydrated with things like popsicles and jello - even beverages like soda and coffee without cream. Staying hydrated is very important because the bowel prep can be dehydrating.

Colonoscopy procedure

A colonoscopy is an endoscopic exam of the colon. We guide a flexible tube through the large intestine and examine it.

You will be sedated and you will not wake up during the procedure. The sedation is Propofol administered through IV fluids. A nurse anesthetist will be monitoring your vital signs and airways during the entire procedure. We work together as a team to ensure your safety throughout the entire process.

A colonoscopy is both a diagnostic and therapeutic procedure - meaning we can find polyps or abnormalities and remove them at the same time.

The procedure itself typically takes 20 - 30 minutes. You will wake up in the recovery room until you awake from the anesthesia - usually 15 - 30 minutes, depending on the patient. You will then go back to the room you started in, you'll be able to have some food, and then you will be able to go home.

If a polyp is detected, it will be removed and sent to pathology. It typically takes a week or two to receive the results. We will then contact you to share the results and determine next steps depending on the results.

If it is a cancer, we can usually tell during the procedure. We will get some imaging and then discuss next steps, which may mean surgery.

If the results are normal, you can typically go ten years before having another procedure.