Colonoscopy is a procedure where a physician inserts a long thin tube into the colon. This tube is connected to a camera and the physician is able to examine the colon. The doctor is also able to remove small polyps, some of which would otherwise grow into cancerous tumors. Colonoscopy is considered the gold standard for finding and removing — and possibly preventing – cancers of the colon and rectum. It can detect up to 95% of colon cancers.
Current guidelines recommend that colonoscopy screening begin at age 50 for individuals at average risk for getting colorectal cancer. Your doctor will give you suggestions regarding how often you should have colonoscopy. The frequency of how often you will need further colonoscopy will depend on the findings of your exam and your family history of cancer of the colon or rectum or if you develop symptoms such as bleeding from the rectum.
The procedure of colonoscopy goes like this: The colonoscope has a small camera attached to a flexible tube. Unlike sigmoidoscopy, which can only reach the lower third of the colon, colonoscopy examines the entire length of the colon. You will lie on your left side with your knees drawn up toward the chest. After you have received a sedative and pain reliever, the colonoscope is inserted and gently advanced to the lowest part of the small bowel. Air will be pumped through the scope to provide a better view. Suction may be used to remove fluid or fecal matter.
Because the health care provider gets a better view as the colonoscope is pulled back out, a more careful examination is done while the scope is being removed. Tissue samples may be taken with tiny biopsy forceps inserted through the scope. Polyps may be removed with electrocautery snares, and photographs can be taken as well.
Sounds tough? It’s really not that bad–and could save your life!