A colonoscopy is the most effective and commonly scheduled screening to prevent colorectal cancer.
During this exam, your doctor uses a colonoscope, a flexible, narrow tube with a light and tiny video camera on the end, to examine the entire length of the colon and rectum. If, during the exam, your doctor finds possible precancerous clusters of cells, called polyps, special instruments can be passed through the colonoscope to either biopsy or remove any suspicious-looking areas. In most cases, polyps can be removed before becoming cancer, thus preventing colorectal cancer.
FAQs about colorectal cancer screenings
I’m curious. How does the exam work?
During a colonoscopy, the patient is given a sedation medication to help them relax and prevent discomfort during the procedure. The colonoscope is then inserted through the rectum and guided along, examining the lining inside the colon. If polyps (group or clump of cells) or abnormalities (inflammation, infections or ulcers) are found, they are removed or biopsied during the procedure.
When should I get my first colonoscopy?
Regularly scheduled colonoscopies are recommended by the American Cancer Society starting at age 45* for those at average risk for colon cancer or earlier if there is a strong family history or other risk factors determined by your provider.
Depending on the results, follow-up colonoscopies may be recommended every three to ten years. If you have a family history of colon cancer or other risk factors, discussing with your provider when you should begin screening is essential.
*The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for colorectal cancer starting at age 45. Most insurance covers screenings beginning at age 50. Contact your insurance carrier for more information about your coverage.
What is the difference between a screening and a diagnostic colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy screening is done for individuals with no symptoms of colon cancer or other diseases. It is a preventative measure to detect early-stage cancers or precancerous lesions (polyps) that can be removed before they turn cancerous. On the other hand, a diagnostic colonoscopy is performed when a patient has symptoms such as abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, or anemia and is used to identify the underlying cause of these symptoms.
What are the risks associated with a screening or diagnostic colonoscopy?
As with any medical procedure, there are potential risks. The most common risks associated with colonoscopies include bleeding, bowel perforation, and infection. However, the likelihood of these complications occurring is relatively low, ranging from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 10,000. Patients should discuss these risks with their provider before undergoing a colonoscopy.
Does insurance cover a colonoscopy?
Most insurance plans, including Medicare, cover colonoscopies as a preventative measure for colon cancer screening. Still, patients should check with their insurance provider to determine their coverage.
What can I eat or drink before a colonoscopy?
The colon must be thoroughly cleaned before a colonoscopy to ensure the doctor has a clear view of the colon’s lining. Follow these step-by-step instructions about how to prepare for a colonoscopy.
What should I expect after a colonoscopy?
After the procedure, patients are typically monitored in a recovery room for a short period to ensure no immediate complications. It is common to experience cramping or bloating after the procedure, and patients are advised to rest and avoid heavy physical activity for the rest of the day. You must have someone available to drive you home after the exam. The medication you receive for your procedure will make it unsafe for you to drive.
How will I receive my results?
After the procedure, the surgeon will discuss the results with the patient and provide any necessary recommendations or follow-up procedures. The results take several days to return if any biopsies or polyps are removed. The physician will call you with the results, followed by a message in MyChart or a letter.
Scheduling your colonoscopy
You’ll need a referral from your primary care provider to schedule a colonoscopy. To make an appointment with one of our Family Medicine providers, call Welia Health at 1.800.245.5671 or log onto MyChart.