Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. It generally has no symptoms in the early stages, and a colon cancer screening is the only way to detect this cancer. If detected early, colon cancer is 90–95 percent treatable. The most effective prevention against colon cancer is knowledge, early detection and treatment..

What is a colonoscopy?

Undergoing a colonoscopy procedure is easier than you think. During a colonoscopy, a doctor uses a lighted, flexible scope with a tiny camera inside that can view the entire length of the colon. This allows the doctor to see any signs of trouble that may be developing. If polyps are discovered, they can be removed immediately with another tiny instrument inside the scope.

Do I need to have a colonoscopy?

Current guidelines suggest that you start colon cancer screenings at age 50 and continue getting them at regular intervals. However, certain people who may be more at risk for getting colon cancer if it runs in their family or if they have an inflammatory bowel disease should get screened at an earlier age and more frequently. You should talk to your doctor about your medical history to learn when and how often you need a colonoscopy. Your primary care physician can refer you to a StoneSprings Hospital specialist and schedule an appointment for you.

How long does a colonoscopy take?

The entire procedure usually takes less than half an hour. Patients are given a moderate sedative, and because of advances in technology, the procedure is generally painless.

What to expect and how to prepare for your colonoscopy

Before your colonoscopy

The day before your colonoscopy, you'll need to completely clean out your colon so the doctor will have an unobstructed view of its surface. Many people put off talking to their doctor about a colonoscopy because of concerns about the cleansing process. Doctors use several different types of preparation for cleansing the colon, and your doctor can help you decide which is best for you. It may be slightly uncomfortable, but all of these preparations are generally well tolerated. Talk with your doctor about all the options and be frank in your discussion about what will work best for you.

We suggest you eat light, easily digestible foods for several days prior to your colonoscopy and drink plenty of clear liquids to stay hydrated. Don’t drink red liquids, which could be confused with blood during your procedure. Your doctor can provide more information on what is best to eat and to avoid prior to your colonoscopy.

It is also important to remind your doctor about any medications you are taking regularly, as you may need to adjust your dosage or temporarily stop taking certain prescriptions.

Arrange a ride home after your colonoscopy and do not plan on going back to work or driving for the rest of the day.

After your colonoscopy

Sedation should wear off about an hour after your procedure. Feeling bloated or passing gas for a few hours is normal, and light walking may help with any discomfort.

As soon as the sedation wears off, your physician will discuss your results with you. If any polyps were removed, they will be sent to the lab for a biopsy for evaluation, and the final results will be available in a few days. If colon cancer is detected, it's good to know that, when detected early, colon cancer is very curable.

Insurance coverage

Medicare and most insurance plans cover colon cancer screenings for people over 50.

Learn more about colonoscopy in our online Health Library.

Find out about the comprehensive gastrointestinal and colorectal services available at StoneSprings Hospital.