A colonoscopy is a test that checks the colon for cancer or polyps (finger-like growths).
Typically performed by a gastroenterologist, the doctor looks into your rectum and colon with a long flexible tube with a camera at the end of it. If polyps are found, they can be removed during the colonoscopy. The removal of the polyps does not cause pain. Sometimes these polyps are benign, which means they are not cancer causing; however, sometimes polyps are cancerous or can turn into cancer (precancerous).
To prepare for your colonoscopy, you will need to take laxatives to clean out your colon the day before the test, and you will need to stop taking certain medications and supplements a few days in advance. Your doctor will provide detailed instructions on how to prepare. The procedure itself should be painless. You will need another adult to drive you home from the test.
Why is Colonoscopy Important?
A Colonoscopy detects cancer in its most curable stage. According to the American Cancer Society, the survival rate for colorectal cancer is 90% when detected early.
Who Should Get a Colonoscopy?
Testing for colon cancer should begin at age 50. However, if you have a personal or family history of bowel or colon cancer, you should have a colonoscopy earlier. Discuss your family history with your doctor and together you can determine the appropriate steps.
There are some families that inherit genes that cause multiple polyps in the colon. If your family has this diagnosis, you may need to be screened more frequently and at an earlier age. You can learn more about familial colorectal cancer through our Cancer Risk Evaluation Program.
If the results of your colonoscopy are normal, it is generally recommended you be tested every 10 years. You will need to be screened more often if you have polyps removed that are precancerous (adenomas).