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Colonoscopy: a screening test for various colon problems

Dr. Susan Blatt, Oneida County Health Department
Posted 8/23/22

Colonoscopy is a test to see if you have anything wrong in your GI tract. It is especially done to look for cancer of the colon.

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Colonoscopy: a screening test for various colon problems


Colonoscopy is a test to see if you have anything wrong in your GI tract.

It is especially done to look for cancer of the colon. Most doctors feel this test should first be done around the age of 45. Your regular doctor will tell you when to start and will recommend a gastro-intestinal doctor to go to. When the test is done, if the test is negative, the GI doctor who does the procedure will tell you when the next one is due. Usually that will be several years.

Colon cancer is a serious problem if it is not found at an early stage. In the past, before colonoscopy was routinely done, people who had colon cancer had surgery to remove part of the colon and, even then, the cancer could be fatal. We are lucky to have this test, but it is a somewhat frightening experience.

First you see the doctor who does colonoscopies and then a date is set for the procedure. The colon must be completely empty so the night before, you are told to take a certain laxative that causes emptying of the bowel. You may do that twice. You will also be given instructions regarding your regular medications. Most will be held the day of the procedure.

The next day you show up at the site where the procedure is done. There an IV is started, your vital signs are monitored, and within a short time anesthesia is given. Once the patient is asleep, the physician inserts a long flexible tube into the rectum. It has a light and a camera. It is inserted all the way through the colon and into part of the small intestine. The doctor takes photos of abnormalities and can take small amounts of tissue specimens. These may come from polyps, which are usually precancerous growths. Small polyps can be removed during the colonoscopy.

The patient sleeps through the procedure and is woken up in about 45 minutes. You may be told everything is normal and that you should come back in a certain number of years.

Diverticula are “pockets” in the wall of the colon, that usually develop as we age. These pockets are seen during colonoscopy. If those pockets become inflamed, we have discomfort and that is called diverticulitis. Some diseases, such as Crohn’s disease, show up as abnormalities in the colon or small intestine.

If the colonoscopy is abnormal there may have been biopsies taken. You will get the results of those soon. There are usually no serious problems after the procedure. You need someone to drive you home. You will probably have an appointment to return to the GI doctor soon after the procedure.

If you start this process in your 40s, you will probably not have cancer at the beginning. If cancer then should develop, it would probably be a fairly minor procedure to remove it. So this somewhat “scary” test is, in the end, important to prevent a potentially fatal condition.


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