Colonoscopy is direct visualization of the lower GI tract involving the rectum and the large intestine. A colonoscopy is considered by many cancer experts to be the preferred method for colon cancer detection. The procedure is used to look for early signs of colorectal cancer and can help doctors diagnose unexplained changes in bowel habits, abdominal pain, bleeding from the anus and weight loss. The colon and rectum are the two main parts of the large intestine.
At what age should routine colonoscopy begin?
A screening colonoscopy should begin at the age of 50 for most people — earlier if there is a family history of polyps, colorectal cancer, a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease or other risk factors. Even though colon cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, it still accounts for the second highest cancer death rate in the United States, after lung cancer.
What preparation is needed for colonoscopy?
If the procedure is to be complete and accurate, the colon must be completely clean. Patients are given detailed instructions about the cleansing of the colon procedure. In general, this consists of a large volume of a special cleansing solution or several days of a clear liquid diet and laxatives or enemas prior to the examination.
These instructions should be followed to the letter or the procedure may be unsatisfactory and have to be repeated later. This procedure is performed with sedation and the patient should not eat or drink anything for 6—8 hours prior to the procedure.
The patient will not be able to drive after the procedure and will need someone to accompany them home.
What about current medications or diet before colonoscopy?
Most medications should be continued as usual, but some may interfere with the examination. It is best that the physician and nurse are informed of all current prescription or over-the-counter medications. Aspirin products, heart and blood pressure medications, blood thinners, arthritis medications, diabetic medications and iron preparations are examples of medications that may require special instructions. The physician and nurse will also want to be aware of the patient’s allergies and any other major illnesses. Instructions may also be given to avoid certain foods for a couple of days prior to the procedure, such as stringy foods, foods with seeds or red Jell-O.