7 things to know about getting a colonoscopy

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. According to the American Cancer Society, here are seven things you should know about a screening that could save your life.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so this month, and throughout the year, we’re sharing important resources from the American Cancer Society. Colorectal cancer, often called colon cancer, is cancer that starts in the colon or rectum.

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women combined nationwide. Oftentimes you may not experience symptoms of colon cancer until it has reached an advanced stage. That’s why colon cancer prevention and screening are so important.

Related Content: Colon cancer: Should you be screened?

A colonoscopy can prevent colon cancer. It can find and remove polyps (small growths that can become cancerous) as well as early-stage cancers before they spread.

Here are seven things you should know about getting your colon cancer screening, provided by the American Cancer Society.

Colon Cancer Screenings

Norton Healthcare offers several options for colon cancer screenings, including Saturday colonoscopies.

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1. What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is an exam that lets a doctor closely look at the inside of the entire colon and rectum to find polyps or signs of cancer. Polyps are small growths that over time can become cancer. The doctor uses a flexible, hollow, lighted tube about the thickness of a finger, that has a tiny video camera on the end. This tube, called a colonoscope, is gently eased inside the colon and sends pictures to a TV screen. Special instruments can be passed through the colonoscope to remove small polyps or take tissue samples if needed.

2. What is a bowel prep?

Bowel prep is a process to clean out the colon as much as possible so the doctor can see the inside clearly and get good pictures. The prep may include eating a special diet, drinking up to a gallon of a liquid laxative, medicines, and sometimes enemas that make you go to the bathroom a lot. You may also be instructed to stop taking certain over-the-counter or prescription medications up to a week before the test.

3. Where are colonoscopies done?

Colonoscopies may be done in a doctor’s office, hospital, clinic or surgery center. The tests are typically done in a private room.

4. What to expect from a colonoscopy

The colonoscopy itself takes about 30 minutes. Patients are usually given medicine to help them relax and sleep while it’s done. If so, you will not be allowed to drive afterward, so someone you know must come with you and drive you home. You’ll also have to plan to stay home the day of the test until the drugs wear off.

5. Does a colonoscopy hurt?

Most people don’t feel pain during any of the tests, but may feel cramping or discomfort afterward because of air that was puffed into the colon during the test, to keep it open for the doctor to examine.

6. What if they find something during my colonoscopy?

If a small polyp is found during a colonoscopy, your doctor will probably remove it during the test. If a polyp is too large to be removed, or if you have an abnormality that looks like cancer, the doctor will take a small piece of it out to check it for cancer or pre-cancer cells (a biopsy). The results of this tissue analysis will determine whether you need additional procedures or treatment.

7. How often is a colonoscopy needed?

If nothing is found, you can go up to 10 years without another test. People older than 75 should talk with their health care provider about if they should keep getting screened. If something is found, you may need more frequent tests or treatment.

You can read the American Cancer Society’s complete article, and download it as an infographic, on the society’s website. Find that information here.

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