The questions and answers below relate specifically to colon (colorectal) cancer screenings as they are performed at Holland Hospital's Endoscopy Center. Your doctor is the best source of answers to your specific questions about your risks for colon cancer and when a colonoscopy is right for you.
Q: Why Is a colonoscopy performed?
Colonoscopy is done to:
Q: How do I prepare for a colonoscopy?
- Check for colorectal cancer or polyps.
- Diagnose causes for dark, black, or bloody stools
- Investigate chronic diarrhea
- Look for bleeding in cases of anemia
- Diagnose cases of sudden, unexplained weight loss
- Watch or treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Explore causes of long-term, unexplained belly pain
Before you have a colonoscopy, tell your doctor if you:
- Are taking any medicines, such as insulin or medicines for arthritis. Ask your doctor which medicines to take before your procedure.
- Are allergic to any medicines, including anesthetics
- Have bleeding problems or take blood thinners, such as aspirin or warfarin (Coumadin)
- Had an X-ray test using barium, such as a barium enema, in the last 4 days
- Are or might be pregnant
You may be asked to stop taking aspirin products or iron supplements 7 to 14 days before the test. If you take blood-thinning medicines regularly, discuss with your doctor how to manage your medicine.
The day before this test, you will need to take a bowel prep to clean out your colon.
Arrange to have someone take you home after the test. You cannot drive after receiving anesthesia.
Q: How Is a colonoscopy performed?
Colonoscopy is done by a specially trained doctor who works with problems of the digestive system (gastroenterologist or by a surgeon trained to perform a colonoscopy). The doctor may have an assistant, in addition to nurses, to help during the colonoscopy. Prior to the test you will get an IV to give you a medicine foro pain and anxiety during the procedure. These medicines help you relax and feel sleepy during the test. You may not remember much about the test.
During a colonoscopy, you lie on your left side with your knees pulled up to your belly. The doctor will gently insert a thin, flexible colonoscope and move it slowly through your colon. The doctor can look at the lining of the colon through the scope or on a computer screen. Your doctor will look at the whole length of your colon as the scope is gently moved. The doctor may also use forcepsor loops through the scope to collect tissue samples or to remove growths.
A colonoscopy usually lasts only 30 to 45 minutes. Afterwards, you will be in recovery for 30 minutes to an hour. When the sedative has worn off, you can go home. You will not be able to drive or operate machinery for 8 hours after the test. Your doctor will tell you when you can resume your normal medications, diet and activities. Do not drink alcohol until your doctor allows it.
Q: Who is at risk for colon cancer?
- Colon: Also known as the large intestine, it is the long, coiled, tube-like organ at the end of the gastrointestinal tract.
- Colonoscopy: An exam of the colon using a thin, lighted tube. Polyps can be removed and examined to determine whether disease is present.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A group of disorders causing the intestines to become red and swollen, e.g., ulcerativecolitis or Crohn’s disease.
- Polyp: A growth protruding from the mucous membrane. Precancerous polyps can be removed to prevent cancer from ever occurring.
Q: How do I lower my risks?
- Men and women age 50 and older
- People with a personal or family history of colon cancer, colon polyps or inflammatory bowel disease
- People with a personal or family history of breast, uterine or endometrial cancer
- People who use tobacco or alcohol to excess
- People who are obese and inactive
Colon cancer is preventable, treatable and often curable when detected early.
Q: What are the symptoms of colon cancer?
- Make regular colonoscopy screenings part of your health care plan starting at age 50, or sooner if you have a family history.
- Talk with your health care professional about cancer prevention.
- Maintain a healthy weight and get regular exercise like walking, gardening or other aerobic activities.
- Eat a low-fat diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Use alcohol in moderation and don’t use tobacco.
Colon cancer may not exhibit any symptoms in the early stages. See your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Rectal bleeding or blood in or on the stool
- Change in bowel habits or frequent gas pains
- Stools that are narrower than usual
- General abdominal discomfort including bloating, gas, fullness, cramps or vomiting
- Diarrhea, constipation or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
- Weight loss for no apparent reason
- Unexplained anemia or constant fatigue