A colonoscopy is an endoscopic procedure that enables a gastroenterologist to view the lining of the colon (large intestine) for cancer or other abnormalities. Colonoscopy may be indicated as a screening or surveillance procedure, or for diagnostic purposes. Screening and diagnostic colonoscopy are the same procedure, but ordered for different reasons. It is important to understand that insurance companies may reimburse differently based on the indication, or reason, for the procedure.
A screening colonoscopy is recommended for patients without symptoms, to evaluate for colon and rectal cancer. A colonoscopy can prevent colon cancer, because polyps are often found and removed before they turn into cancer. The American College of Gastroenterology recommends that people of average risk have their first colonoscopy at age 50, and if normal, then every 10 years after that. There are exceptions to this guideline. Click here to learn more about colon cancer screening.
A diagnostic colonoscopy may be recommended to evaluate or treat gastrointestinal symptoms, a known history of colon polyps, or gastrointestinal disease.
Prior to the procedure, you will be asked to follow “prep” instructions, to completely empty your bowel. To avoid any pain during the procedure, you will be given an anesthesia medication. The gastroenterologist will insert an endoscope, also known as a colonoscope (a flexible and narrow tube with a light and camera at the tip), into the rectum, and advance this through the large intestine.
Sometimes polyps are found, which are typically removed during the procedure. While most polyps are non-cancerous growths, some will grow into cancer if not removed. This is the preventative aspect of a colonoscopy. The polyp tissue will be sent to a pathologist for evaluation.
Colonoscopy is typically performed on an outpatient basis, and you are discharged home soon after the procedure is complete.
Find out why you should be screened for colorectal cancer, what screening options are available, and how you can schedule yours.
While alternatives are available, colonoscopy remains the best way to prevent colon cancer. The goal of screening colonoscopy is to detect and remove colon polyps as certain polyps (adenomas) have the ability to turn cancerous. Since the majority of colon cancers are found in people who are 50 and older, your first colonoscopy should happen...