Making Decisions About Home Care

Understaning Colonoscopy: A Potentially Life-Saving Procedure

by Mae Ferguson

Screening for colon cancer is extremely important because when caught early, it is often curable. Screening consists of undergoing a colonoscopy to look for signs of cancer. Most doctors recommend a colonoscopy for middle-aged patients and those with a family history of colorectal cancer.

This type of cancer often begins in the inner lining of the rectum or colon. Understanding polyps and the screening process can help patients understand the importance of the screening process.

What Is A Colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is an endoscopic procedure using a flexible, long tube with a light and video camera attached to look inside the colon and rectum. The tube used also uses air to inflate the colon for a better view.

While this may sound uncomfortable and scary, doctors sedate patients before the procedure. The camera captures images of inside the colon and sends them to a screen for the doctor. The camera shows whether or not a patient has growths known as polyps.

What Is The Importance Of Polyps?

Polyps are growth that develops in the lining of the rectum or colon that has the potential to become cancerous. Not all polyps are cancerous, and depending on the type of polyp, it may take years before it becomes cancerous.

During a routine colonoscopy, the doctor removes any polyps or any suspicious growths seen with the camera. Treating a problem during the procedure means preventing the possible development and growth of cancer. 

Some treatments performed during a colonoscopy include:

  • Removing blockages
  • Removing suspicious polyps
  • Sealing wounds
  • Placing stents
  • Injected medications
  • Laser therapy

Endoscopists are doctors trained to perform these treatments with special tools. 

What Is The Colonoscopy Prep Procedure?

For the best results during a colonoscopy, the bowel must be clean to provide clear pictures. The doctor gives patients detailed instructions to follow before the day of the procedure.

The listed instructions generally include the following.

  • A few days of sticking to a low-fiber diet
  • A day before the procedure, patients must have clear liquids only
  • The evening before the procedure, you'll use laxatives to empty your bowels

While for some, the prep is uncomfortable because you'll spend a great deal of time in the bathroom the evening before, it's important to complete this last step to get good results. 

A colonoscopy sounds scary and uncomfortable, but if you follow the doctor's instructions, the procedure will go smoothly and may even save your life. Make sure you discuss your risk of colon cancer and screening options with your doctor.