Colon Cancer Screening & Prevention: Colonoscopy
A colonoscopy procedure is a screening method that allows a doctor to view the inside of the entire large intestine to check for any abnormalities or symptoms of colon cancer. Colonoscopies are considered crucial to early detection of colorectal cancer – cancer in the rectum and colon cancer. But what exactly is involved in a colonoscopy procedure? And who should undergo this screening method for colon cancer symptoms?
The Colonoscopy Procedure
During a colonoscopy, a slender, flexible and hollow tube known as a colonoscope is used to view the lining of the rectum as well as the entire colon. The lighted colonoscope is inserted into the rectum and is connected to a video camera and a display monitor to allow the doctor to examine the areas.
A colonoscope can be guided gently around the curves of the colon, and air is blown into the colon to keep the area inflated and allow clearer observation. A colonoscopy procedure is performed while the patient is under moderate sedation as well as pain medication. Throughout the procedure, the patient may be asked to change positions at times to allow the doctor to observe different regions of the colon more closely.
In general, most patients do not remember undergoing the colonoscopy procedure. The entire process typically lasts between 30 and 60 minutes.
What Can a Colonoscopy Detect?
A colonoscopy procedure can help doctors detect inflamed tissue, abnormal growths, or ulcers in the intestines. It can detect signs of colon cancer as well as rectal cancer, and identify the cause of the following:
- changes in bowel movements
- chronic diarrhea
- unexplained iron-deficiency anemia
- abdominal pain
- rectal bleeding or bloody bowel movements
- weight loss
Most abnormal tissue that is found during a colonoscopy – such as polyps – can be removed by a doctor. Polyps, which can become cancerous, are removed using an electric current and a wire loop that is passed through the colonoscope and cuts the polyp from the colon wall. Any removed tissue may be sent to a laboratory for analysis (biopsy).
Preparing for Colonscopy
A colon cleanse is necessary in preparation for the colonoscopy procedure. Your doctor will provide you with specific guidelines for colon cleansing prior to your colonoscopy appointment. It is important to follow your doctor’s specific guidelines, particularly if you require specific medical considerations for conditions such as diabetes, lung disease or heart disease.
A colon cleanse in preparation for a colonoscopy may include the following guidelines:
- avoiding solid food for one to three days prior to appointment
- maintaining a diet of only clear liquids such as broth, tea, coffee and strained fruit juice for several days
- drinking plenty of water to remain hydrated
- stopping certain medications such as aspirin, arthritis medication and blood thinners
- avoiding vitamins, especially if they contain iron
- taking laxatives
Colonoscopy Risks and Side Effects
It is common to feel some mild discomfort or cramping during the colonoscopy procedure, and this may not go away until an hour after undergoing screening. Patients will typically be required to stay in the medical facility for one to two hours following the procedure. However, full recovery is expected within a day.
In rare cases, patients may experience the following symptoms:
- severe abdominal pain
- bloody bowel movements
Experiencing any of these symptoms following a colonoscopy will require immediate medical attention from your physician. On rare occasions, the colonoscope may puncture the colon or rectum wall in a condition known as perforation. Perforation requires surgical treatment as it can lead to serious complications.
Speak to your health care provider about other precautions and guidelines to follow after receiving a colonoscopy. In some cases, certain medications should be temporarily stopped.