Colorectal cancer, or colon cancer, is the second leading cause of death from cancer in the United States. The great news is colonoscopies can prevent colon cancer. During a colonoscopy, your doctor can easily find and remove precancerous polyps before they have the chance to turn into cancer. Unfortunately, early stage colon cancer does not typically show symptoms. If you wait until you experience signs and symptoms of colon cancer, it means you already have the disease, and it may be advanced and difficult to cure.
Getting routine colonoscopies can detect cancer early, before symptoms develop and cancer spreads. According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for individuals whose colorectal cancer is detected at an early, localized stage is 90 percent.
If you're 45 years old or older, you should get regular screenings for colon cancer. Talk to your primary care provider to learn more.
What happens during a colonoscopy?
Colonoscopy is well-tolerated and rarely causes much pain. You might feel pressure, bloating or cramping during the procedure. Your doctor might give you a sedative to help you relax and better tolerate any discomfort. You will lie on your side or back while your doctor slowly advances a colonoscope through your large intestine to examine the lining. Your doctor will examine the lining again as he or she slowly withdraws the colonoscope. The procedure itself usually takes 15 to 60 minutes, although you should plan on two to three hours for waiting, preparation and recovery. In some cases, the doctor cannot pass the colonoscope through the entire colon to where it meets the small intestine. Although another examination might be needed, your doctor might decide that the limited examination is sufficient.
What happens after a colonoscopy?
Your physician will explain the results of the examination to you, although you'll probably have to wait for the results of any biopsies performed. If you have been given sedatives during the procedure, someone must drive you home and stay with you. Even if you feel alert after the procedure, your judgment and reflexes could be impaired for the rest of the day. You might have some cramping or bloating because of the air introduced into the colon during the examination. This should disappear quickly when you pass gas. You should be able to eat after the examination, but your doctor might restrict your diet and activities, especially after polypectomy.