Colonoscopy and Colorectal Screening
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Colon cancer is the third-most common cancer in both men and women. In the vast majority of people, a polyp (pre-cancerous growth) is the first step in developing colon and rectal cancer. Polyps are abnormal growths in the lining of the colon, which given enough time, can turn into cancer. Usually, polyps and early colon and rectal cancers cause no symptoms or only mild symptoms like blood in the stool. Polyps can usually be removed during a colonoscopy, thus preventing people from ever developing cancer.
Getting a colonoscopy is the best way you can cut down on this cancer risk.
Colonoscopy is a procedure that uses a long flexible tube with a camera on the end to look at the inside of the colon. If any abnormality, like a polyp, is identified, the physician performing the colonoscopy can either biopsy (take a portion of) the growth or remove it completely. Aside from looking for polyps and colon cancer, colonoscopy is also useful to detect other conditions like diverticulosis, inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease), or abnormal blood vessels in the colon wall. Because your physician wants to get as good of a look at the lining of the colon, a "bowel preparation" is performed to wash out all the stool--this is critical in getting a good view.
Who should get a colonoscopy?
We generally recommend that people get a screening colonoscopy starting at age 50. Screening means that it is being done for people without symptoms. However, if people have symptoms like bleeding, pain, or changes in bowel habits, we may recommend a colonoscopy to try to identify the cause so that it can be treated. We also recommend intermittent "surveillance" colonoscopy for people who have had prior polyps or colon cancer, since these people are at higher risk for developing a colon cancer.
What to expect for your scheduled colonoscopy
If you are on blood thinners, aspirin, NSAIDs, or other anticoagulants, your physician will likely recommend that you stop those medications 5 days prior to the procedure, if it is medically safe to do so. On the day prior to the colonoscopy, you generally will drink only clear liquids, not eating any solid food. This helps to decrease the amount of stool in your bowel. The afternoon prior to your procedure, you will drink the "bowel prep", which is a relatively large volume of laxative that will wash out the colon. The day of your procedure, you will come to the facility where the colonoscopy is being performed. During the procedure, you will get medications through your veins that will make you very sleepy. Most people will remember little to none of the procedure due to these medications. While you are sedated, your physician will perform the colonoscopy. Afterwards, you likely will be able to eat normally. Because of the sedation, you will need to get a ride home from a family member or friend.