1. What is a colonoscopy and what is its purpose?
In general, a colonoscopy is the term used to do a screening test of a patient’s large intestine. We use a colonoscope, a flexible camera tube, to help us look for polyps that can turn into colon cancer.
2. What can patients expect when they arrive, during the procedure, and then after?
Some physicians meet their patients the day of the procedure; however, I like to see my patient for a preoperative visit. During this appointment, I can explain the process and go over any potential risks or complications. A colonoscopy requires some preparation work for our patients. Patients are required to drink a liquid and take some pills that result in a bowel movement. This helps to clean out the intestines, so we can see into the colon. During this prep time, you can only consume clear liquids (no solid food). Also, patients should not consume any red liquids because the coloring can look like bleeding.
On the day of the procedure, patients arrive about an hour before their scheduled procedure so that they can start an IV, get into a gown and be ready for the procedure to begin. We use CRNA's to help put the patient to sleep – it’s basically a nice nap. After the patient wakes up, they get to go home. Because the medication can make patients dizzy or tired when they wake up, someone will need to be available to drive him or her home. Patients should use the remainder of the day to rest and take it easy.
3. When should someone schedule a colonoscopy? Do they need a referral?
For both men and women, a typical diagnostic colonoscopy should be scheduled at age 45, which is the age we begin screening for colon polyps. The average age of patients with colon cancer is 60, and colon polyps generally take about 10 years to turn into colon cancer.
Some symptoms that could require a colonoscopy or an early test, called Cologuard, include:
- Rectal bleeding
- Change in bowel habits
- Abdominal pain
- Masses in the abdomen (felt during an exam)
- Family history of colon cancer
Patients should contact their insurance company to find out whether a referral is needed.
4. What are the warning signs that there might be a problem?
Unfortunately, there are no real warning signs that there may be a problem in the colon. Often, by the time we see symptoms, there is already something going on. However, I have seen many patients who come to see me with rectal bleeding, but no colon cancer.
5. Who is at risk for colon cancer or colon-related issues?
Family history does increase the risk for colon cancer or colon related issues. However, the age that we are finding colon cancer is starting to decrease and it is most likely due to environmental and diet-related causes.
6. Anything you would like to add?
Complications from colonoscopy are very rare. However, the most serious complication would be intestinal perforation. This happens about once in every 5,000 procedures because the scope can cause a tear/hole in the colon. The issue is treatable but does require surgery.
With any procedure, I always encourage patients to ask questions, do some research and write down anything. We want to make sure they're completely comfortable and that they understand why we're doing this and what we are doing.
To schedule an a colonoscopy at one of the following locations, or for more information, visit: