Among cancers that affect both men and women, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identify colorectal cancer as the third most common cancer and the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.
Thousands of people receive a colorectal cancer diagnosis every year, but screening can help save lives. However, some people fear the screening process even more than the reality of cancer. A typical physical involves numerous tests, and while many are unpleasant, few elicit such strong negative feelings as a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy remains one of the best methods of examining areas of the rectum, colon and other parts of the intestinal tract to detect abnormalities that indicate diseases such as cancer. According to the Mayo Clinic, a colonoscopy should become part of routine checkups by age 50 in patients without a family history of colon abnormalities. Doctors may advise earlier screenings for those at higher risk.
A colonoscopy can be awkward, but it is a common procedure that is relatively safe. Understanding the process can alleviate some patients’ trepidation. Your doctor will describe in detail what can be expected, as it may vary from practitioner to practitioner. The following is a rundown of what people can expect when receiving a colonoscopy.
Some have described colonoscopy preparation as the most unpleasant part of the procedure. In order to provide clear images of the interior of the colon, the colon needs to be completely empty. To achieve this, your doctor will prescribe a solution that will empty the bowels thoroughly. This solution is consumed over a certain period of time prior to the procedure and will draw fluid into the colon to expel stool. Patients will need to stay near a bathroom after consuming the solution, and this prep work may be repeated on the morning of the procedure.
In addition to the beverage, you will be advised to eat a clear diet for 24 hours before the procedure. This means only clear broths and fluids. Solid food is not allowed. Again, this is to ensure that the laxative does its job and there will be no obstructions in the colon.
Day of procedure
The majority of colonoscopy procedures are performed when the patient is under anesthesia. Therefore, patients will need to bring a friend or relative along to the medical center to drive or escort them home once the procedure is finished.
Gastroenterologists typically perform the colonoscopy in a hospital or outpatient center. The anesthesiologist will meet with the patient to explain his or her role in the procedure. The doctor will once again explain the procedure, which involves the insertion of a flexible camera into the anus, to patients. The scope will travel through the colon slowly, looking for any abnormalities.
Patients can expect to lie on their sides on a gurney during the procedure. Patients will be hooked to an intravenous line and various monitors will keep track of their pulse and oxygen levels. Once the anesthesia is administered, patients will quickly drift off, and this is when the doctor will begin. After the procedure has been performed, many people do not remember it and experience no pain.
Because air is pumped into the colon to help the scope move unencumbered, patients can expect to feel some bloating and gas, but this should abate over time. Once the grogginess has worn off, you will be allowed to go home and enjoy a large lunch and fill your empty stomach.
The gastroenterologist may discuss the results of the colonoscopy right after the procedure or schedule a follow-up appointment a few days after. Patients will be provided with ongoing care information and recommendations to improve colon health. A diet that includes more full-grain fiber may be recommended.