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A colonoscopy is the most common type of screening for colorectal cancer and is recommended every 10 years for adults at average risk, starting at age 45. For people at high risk, doctors may recommend starting regular screenings at an earlier age or screening more frequently. For this test, the doctor uses a long, thin, flexible, video scope to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the colon. Polyps can be found and removed during the procedure.

Do I need a colonoscopy?

Colonoscopies have the highest cancer detection success rate of any colorectal screening.  Most cases of colorectal cancer begin as small, benign clumps of cells, or growths, called adenomatous polyps. Over time, these polyps can become cancerous. Polyps rarely produce symptoms until they become cancer. Without routine colonoscopies, polyps and colorectal cancer often aren’t detected until their later stages when they become harder to treat successfully.

Do I need to see a gastroenterologist before scheduling a colonoscopy?

A gastroenterologist is a physician who specializes in conditions affecting the stomach, intestines, esophagus, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, colon and rectum. They are trained to perform a variety of procedures, including colonoscopies.

If you are age 45 or older or have a referral, you do not need to see a gastroenterologist before scheduling a colonoscopy. Some gastroenterologists require a consultation before performing a colonoscopy, but not all. If you are under the age of 45 you will have to see a Primary Care Physician for a colonoscopy referral.

How do I prepare for a colonoscopy?

Before a colonoscopy, the colon must be completely clean for the procedure to be accurate and comprehensive. Preparation for a colonoscopy typically consists of a clear liquid diet the day before the procedure and taking a laxative in the evening and morning as prescribed by your physician.

What happens during a colonoscopy?

During a colonoscopy, your doctor will give sedation to relax and make the procedure comfortable. Here is what you can expect:

  • The procedure itself usually takes less than 20 - 25 minutes.
  • You will lie on your side - while your doctor slowly advances a colonoscope along your large intestine to examine the inside.
  • Your doctor will examine the colon again as the colonoscope is slowly withdrawn.

What can I expect after a colonoscopy?

You will be monitored until most of the effects of the sedatives have worn off. Your physician will explain the results of the examination to you. If biopsies are performed, those are sent to a laboratory and results are given later.

If you have been given sedatives during the procedure, someone must drive you home and stay with you. Even if you feel alert after the procedure, your judgment and reflexes could be impaired for the rest of the day.

The doctor usually recommends a light meal on arriving home, followed by your usual diet. After any sedation, you should not drive, operate machinery nor make important decisions until the next day. Your doctor will give you post procedure instructions.

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