A colonoscopy is a procedure in which the lining of the colon is inspected with a flexible instrument called a colonoscope. Your physician can visualize the lining on a television monitor while you are comfortably sedated and can use the finding of the procedure to help with diagnosis and treatment of a number of diseases affecting the colon.
Today, the most common indication for a colonoscopy is screening for colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer – and the second most common cause of cancer death – in both men and women in the United States and is preventable with a screening colonoscopy examination. Studies have shown that patients who undergo colonoscopy are 90% less likely to die of colorectal cancer.
During a screening colonoscopy, your gastroenterologist carefully inspects the entire lining of the colon for polyps – growths within the colon that may develop into cancer if not removed. Not all polyps are considered pre-cancerous (called adenomas), but they must be examined under a microscope to determine whether they a pre-cancerous or benign, so all polyps found are removed for examination.
On the morning of the procedure, you have an IV inserted at the endoscopy center and you will be given anesthesia to make the procedure comfortable. The anesthesia may be delivered either by your gastroenterologist or by an anesthesiologist (you may discuss this option with your doctor before the procedure). The procedure generally takes 30-45 minutes and then you are awaken in the recovery room and allowed to have crackers and juice before your departure. Your physician will discuss the results with you immediately after the procedure. If polyps were removed or biopsies taken, you will be instructed to call the office in approximately one week for the biopsy results. You may return to normal activities and work the following day. Your referring doctor will be informed of the procedure findings once the final biopsy report is available. There should be no pain following the procedure.
Colonoscopy is a very safe procedure, but there are small risks involved. There is a rare (1 in 3,000) risk of a colon perforation (a puncture in the lining of the colon) which may require surgery to repair. Other rare risks include bleeding after a polyp was removed and heart or lung complications following the anesthesia used for the procedure. Your physician will discuss with you the risks and benefits of the colonoscopy procedure before the procedure and will answer any questions.