Cancer takes numerous lives each year, but doctors today offer a variety of ways to screen for cancers and precancerous lesions and provide patients with peace of mind and better health outcomes. Not including skin cancers, colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States, affecting nearly 5 percent of men and women at some point in their lives.
While there are several tests that can help doctors examine the colon and detect abnormalities, the most commonly used examination is the colonoscopy. The benefits of choosing this test over others, such as the fecal immunochemical test or stool DNA test, include easy visualization of cancerous lesions and polyps within the colon and the ability to test every 10 years as opposed to every three years (as is recommended with other tests).
What Is a Colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is a procedure that allows a physician to visualize the rectum and colon using a special camera to detect any changes or abnormalities. A long, flexible tube is inserted through the rectum and up through the colon while the patient is lightly sedated. In some cases, the physician will remove samples of tissue during the examination if he detects abnormalities and wishes to check for colon cancer.
This procedure is commonly done on an outpatient basis and usually requires a day of preparation. Most procedures are done as simple screening tests, but some are performed to evaluate current problems that the patient may be having.
Who Needs a Colonoscopy?
Colonoscopies are commonly performed on individuals over the age of 50 to screen for colon cancer. This recommendation applies to individuals who are not at a high risk of developing this type of cancer.
Those at higher risk, such as those with a positive family history, may have a colonoscopy performed much earlier than this. In most cases, the procedure should be performed every 10 years to check for changes. Individuals who are 76 or older should ask their doctors whether this procedure is right for them.
However, colonoscopies can be used as more than just a screening tool. They can also provide important information about the health of the colon if an individual is complaining of certain symptoms, such as chronic constipation, rectal bleeding or unexplained abdominal pain.
In addition, if an individual had polyps removed in the past, a doctor may recommend a follow-up colonscopy to check for the growth of new polyps. Many polyps have the ability to become cancerous over time, and removing them promptly can greatly reduce one’s future risk of cancer.
How Should Patients Prep?
This procedure typically requires one to two days of prep to allow the colon to empty completely, which gives the doctor increased visualization. There are several ways to empty the colon. Your doctor may recommend a special diet, a laxative, an enema or a combination of these methods.
A pre-procedure diet will generally be bland, and individuals are often instructed not to eat any solid foods on the day prior to the procedure. Clear liquids can provide hydration and some nutrition while allowing the colon to empty completely.
This emptying can be helped along with a laxative, which is usually given in the form of a drink to induce diarrhea. However, some individuals may take a tablet as a laxative instead. This medication is usually used both the night before the procedure as well as the next morning. An over-the-counter enema can help empty the lower colon as well.
Finally, patients may be told to change which medications they take or when they take them. This is especially important for medications that thin the blood. However, the doctor may recommend making changes in medications for pain, diabetes or blood pressure as well.
How Long Does This Procedure Take?
A colonoscopy usually takes between 30 to 60 minutes once the patient is sedated. However, if the doctor finds any concerning polyps that require biopsy or removal, the procedure may take a bit longer.
What Can Patients Expect During the Procedure?
At Edgewood Surgical Hospital, we are committed to the comfort of our patients, from arrival to departure. We keep scheduling simple and smooth to ensure that patients can get the procedure times that they want. Once a patient arrives, we create a safe and secure space and provide a robe, blankets and socks to preserve dignity and comfort at all times.
Patients are sedated and may also receive medication to decrease pain during the procedure. The individual will then be positioned on their side in order to place the tube. The physician will fill the colon with carbon dioxide gas to get a better look at the tissue, and most patients report not remembering the procedure at all.
What Can Patients Expect Following the Procedure?
Most of our patients at Edgewood wake up from the colonoscopy with no recollection of the procedure thanks to the light sedation provided. Some individuals complain of gas, cramping or bloating for the first hour or two, but this usually decreases by the time they head home after receiving post-procedure care at our facility.
Patients should plan to take the rest of the day to relax and should find a ride home. Most patients return to their usual daily activities and diet by the next day.
Experience a Safe Colonoscopy at Edgewood Surgical Hospital
At Edgewood, we believe that a diagnostic procedure, like a colonoscopy, should be safe and comfortable in order to decrease unnecessary stress and preserve our patients’ dignity. We are a fully licensed facility that delivers a wide range of diagnostic services and surgical procedures, and we are incredibly proud of our high patient satisfaction scores.
When you choose Edgewood, you can rest assured that you are receiving the very best care available today. We serve our local communities with pride, knowing that we can impact the quality of our patients’ lives with cutting-edge services located right in their neighborhoods.
We encourage you to check out Edgewood Surgical Hospital today and discover how our emphasis on patient safety, our dedication to comfort and convenience at every step and the personal attention that we give to every patient set us apart from every other facility in Pennsylvania.