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Colonoscopy for colorectal cancer

Colonoscopy for colorectal cancer

A colonoscopy is a vital medical procedure used to examine the inside of the colon, also known as the large intestine, and the rectum. It involves the insertion of a thin, flexible tube with a camera at its tip, called a colonoscope, through the rectum to provide a detailed view of the colon’s lining. This procedure plays a crucial role in the early detection, diagnosis, and prevention of colorectal cancer and various gastrointestinal conditions.

Benefits of a colonoscopy

  • One of the primary benefits of a colonoscopy is its effectiveness in detecting colorectal cancer at an early, more treatable stage. By identifying precancerous polyps or early-stage tumors during the procedure, doctors can initiate timely intervention, significantly improving the chances of successful treatment.
  • During a colonoscopy, if polyps (small growths) are detected in the colon, they can often be removed immediately. This not only helps prevent the development of cancer but also eliminates potential sources of discomfort or bleeding.
  • Colonoscopy is recommended for individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer or those at higher risk due to personal health factors. It is considered the gold standard for colorectal cancer screening for these individuals.
  • Unlike some other screening methods, a colonoscopy provides a comprehensive examination of the entire colon. This thorough assessment ensures that no potential issues are missed.
  • In addition to cancer screening, a colonoscopy can help diagnose various gastrointestinal conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), diverticulosis, and unexplained bleeding or abdominal pain.
  • Early detection and intervention through colonoscopy have been shown to significantly improve the survival rates of individuals diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
  • If a colonoscopy is not suitable for a particular individual due to medical reasons or personal preferences, other colorectal cancer screening methods, such as fecal occult blood tests (FOBT) or sigmoidoscopy, may be considered. However, it’s essential to discuss the advantages and limitations of these options with a health care provider.


Before the colonoscopy, you will be given specific instructions on how to prepare your bowel. This typically involves a clear liquid diet for a day or two before the procedure and taking laxatives or a bowel-cleansing solution to empty the colon completely. It’s essential to follow these instructions meticulously to ensure a clear view during the examination.

Anesthesia and positioning

Anesthesia and positioning

In most cases, the procedure is done under conscious sedation or anesthesia to keep you comfortable and relaxed. You may not remember the procedure afterward. You’ll be positioned on your left side on an examination table. Your knees will be drawn up towards your chest.

Insertion, examination, and biopsy

Insertion, examination, and biopsy

A gastroenterologist will gently insert a colonoscope into your rectum. As the colonoscope slowly advances through the colon, the doctor will carefully inspect the lining of your colon. They will look for any abnormalities, such as polyps, inflammation, or signs of cancer. If any polyps are found, they may be removed during the procedure for further examination.

Recovery and post-procedure

Recovery and post-procedure

After the procedure, you’ll be monitored in a recovery area until the effects of the sedation wear off. It’s essential to have someone available to drive you home since you may still be groggy. Your doctor will discuss their findings with you and provide any necessary follow-up instructions.

How to properly prepare for a colonoscopy

Consult your physician:

  • Schedule an appointment to discuss the colonoscopy and go over your medical history and any medications you are taking.
  • Inform your doctor of any allergies or medical conditions you have.

Receive clear instructions: Your provider will provide you with specific instructions for preparation. Follow these instructions carefully, as they are tailored to your individual needs.

Dietary restrictions:

  • In the days leading up to the colonoscopy, you will likely need to follow a clear liquid diet. This may include water, clear broths, strained fruit juices, plain gelatin, and clear popsicles.
  • Avoid red or purple-colored liquids, dairy products, and any liquids with pulp.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking clear fluids throughout the day.

Bowel preparation:

  • Your doctor will prescribe a bowel preparation solution, typically a laxative, to cleanse your colon. Follow the dosing instructions provided.
  • You’ll need to start the bowel preparation the day before the colonoscopy. It often involves taking laxatives in divided doses and drinking clear liquids.
  • Expect multiple bowel movements as the solution works to empty your colon. It’s essential to stay near a restroom during this time.


  • Generally, you’ll need to stop eating solid foods at least 24 hours before the procedure.
  • Avoid consuming any food, gum, or mints on the day of your colonoscopy.

Medication adjustments:

  • Inform your doctor about any prescription or over-the-counter medications you take.
  • You may need to adjust or temporarily stop taking certain medications, such as blood thinners or iron supplements, in the days leading up to the procedure.

Transportation and support:

  • Arrange for someone to drive you to and from the medical facility on the day of your colonoscopy, as you may be groggy from sedation.
  • Have someone available to accompany you, as you’ll need assistance after the procedure.

Follow pre-procedure guidelines:

  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing to the appointment.
  • Remove jewelry and avoid wearing makeup or nail polish, as these can interfere with monitoring equipment.

Frequently asked colonoscopy questions

Is a colonoscopy painful?

No, it’s not typically painful. You would be given sedation or anesthesia to ensure comfort during the procedure, but you may feel some mild discomfort or pressure.

How long does a colonoscopy take?

The procedure itself usually takes around 30 minutes to an hour. However, you should plan for additional time for check-in, recovery, and for the effects of sedation to wear off.

How often should I have a colonoscopy?

The recommended frequency varies depending on your age, family history, and risk factors. Generally, it’s recommended every 10 years for average-risk individuals, with more frequent screenings for those at higher risk.

What if polyps are found during the colonoscopy?

If polyps (small growths) are detected, they are often removed during the procedure for further examination. This is important, as it can prevent the development of colorectal cancer.

When can I resume normal activities after a colonoscopy?

Most people can resume their regular activities the day after the procedure. Strenuous exercise and heavy lifting should be avoided for at least 24 hours.

If you’re 45 or older, or have a family history of colorectal cancer, the most effective way to reduce your risk is to schedule a screening colonoscopy. The care team at CHI St. Joseph’s Health offers screenings right here in Park Rapids.

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