Each year the American Cancer Society projects that more than 150,000 new cases of colon and rectal cancer will be diagnosed, and more than 51,000 colorectal cancer-related deaths could occur.

Despite these somber statistics, there is good news: Outcomes and survival rates from colorectal cancer dramatically improve when the condition is detected early. One of the most essential aspects of early detection and screening is a procedure known as a colonoscopy.

What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a procedure that allows a physician to internally examine your colon (large intestine) and rectum using a scope.

Your doctor may perform a colonoscopy for a few reasons:

  • Colorectal cancer screening. If you’re 45 or older, ask your doctor about when and how often you should undergo a colonoscopy to screen for colorectal cancer. People who are at high risk may need to be screened earlier and more often. (Note: A colonoscopy is not the only way to screen for colorectal cancer, but it is considered the “gold standard.”)
  • Removing polyps. Polyps are abnormal tissue growths that can increase your risk for colon cancer. Doctors can remove polyps and take biopsies of other unusual tissues during a colonoscopy.
  • Investigating digestive health issues. A colonoscopy can better assess problems like unusual bleeding from the rectum, constipation, diarrhea and abdominal pain or bloating.

What to expect if you’re getting a colonoscopy

If you’re scheduled for a colonoscopy, your medical team will give you detailed instructions on what to do before and after the procedure. This may include using laxatives or enemas to empty and clean out your colon, and procuring a ride home from your appointment.

During the procedure, you’ll be placed in a comfortable position on your side. The doctor will insert a flexible tube called a colonoscope into your rectum. This tube contains a tiny video camera to allow your doctor to see inside you. Mild sedation is usually used. This helps keep you comfortable and improves the accuracy of the procedure. The entire process generally takes anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes.

After your colonoscopy, it’s normal to feel gassy or bloated for a few hours. Walking can relieve these symptoms, which are generally a result of air being introduced into the rectum during the procedure.

It’s also normal to have a small amount of blood in your first bowel movement post-procedure. However, if you continue to bleed or have persistent abdominal pain or a fever, call your doctor.

Need a colonoscopy?

SIU Medicine is home to area leaders in digestive health and cancer doctors who combine innovative medical research and advanced clinical practice into a premier patient care experience. If you’d like to schedule a colonoscopy or discuss other digestive health concerns with our team, contact SIU Medicine at 217-545-8000. We’re happy to help you schedule an appointment with a highly trained physician in the greater central Illinois community.

Topics: Digestive Health, Colonoscopy