Although colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death for both men and women, simple screenings are some of the most powerful prevention tools available. The popular screening test, known as a colonoscopy, is a simple procedure that examines the health of your bowels, and identifies early signs of colorectal cancer. Colonoscopies are safe and effective, and are highly recommended for those who are over the age of 50, or whose family has a history of colorectal cancer. If caught in its early stages, colon cancer can be manageable and treatable.
If you’ve been scheduled for your first colonoscopy and want to know what to expect, you can learn more below.
How Do I Prepare For A Colonoscopy?
Before your colonoscopy, you will first meet with your doctor to discuss your personal health, why you would need a colonoscopy, and some other important details such as:
- Any medications that you are currently taking
- Any allergies to medication
- If you have had bleeding problems (ex. frequent nosebleeds) or have taken blood thinners
- If you have received an x-ray using barium in the past 4 days
- If you are or might be pregnant
The details listed above could cause issues during the colonoscopy, and cause it to be rescheduled or cancelled. Your doctor will most likely ask you these questions at your appointment, but it can be a good idea to prepare your answers beforehand. After the initial consultation, your doctor will schedule your colonoscopy.
Clearing Out The Colon
Effective bowel preparation is the critical first step in readying yourself for a colonoscopy. You will need to stop eating solid foods for about one to two days before the procedure, and switch over to drinking clear fluids, such as water, broth, tea, and clear juices. This diet is to ensure that there is no fecal matter in your colon, that can obstruct your doctor’s view during the exam. About six or eight hours before the colonoscopy, you’ll need to stop drinking clear liquids as well.
You will also be given medicine to help flush out your colon, typically a laxative solution. While the laxative usually lacks in flavor, some patients find it helpful to drink it through a straw. You can also ask your doctor if there’s anything that you can safely add to improve the flavor. It is recommended that you stay home when preparing for your colonoscopy, since you will need to use the restroom often.
What Happens During A Colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy typically lasts about 30 to 45 minutes, but can take longer depending on what your doctor finds. To conduct a colonoscopy, your doctor will insert a small, flexible device called a “colonoscope” into your anus. The colonoscope has a camera attached to it, so your doctor can examine your rectum and colon. The device will also be used to pump air into your colon, which will expand the lining so the your doctor can see clearly.
It is common to feel cramping, as well as the need to have a bowel movement. To provide some relief from the cramps, you should breathe deeply and slowly, relaxing your stomach muscles. As the scope is inserted or removed, you may feel air escaping from around the scope. After the scope is removed and the colonoscopy is completed, the doctor will clean the areas around your anus.
What Are The Typical Side Effects Of A Colonoscopy?
After your colonoscopy, you may feel some residual cramps and gas pains. Naturally passing gas will help relieve this discomfort. It is possible to experience a small amount of blood in your stool in the case your doctor removed a polyp during the procedure. Most side effects go away after a few days, but if any pain or discomfort persists, call your doctor right away.
When Should I Get A Colonoscopy?
For both men and women, there is an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer past the age of 50. If your are in this age range, or if your family has a history of colorectal cancer, it is highly recommended that you schedule regular check ups with your doctor. The frequency of a colonoscopy depends on each individual case.
If you have any questions about colonoscopies, contact us at Peninsula Radiation Oncology Center. We look forward to helping you on your path to wellness.