Last updated on October 20th, 2022 at 07:46 am
Everyone needs a colonoscopy test at least once in their lifetime. A colonoscopy is a test that examines the inside of your large intestine or colon. During a colonoscopy, your doctor will look for any signs of cancer, ulcers, inflammation and other diseases of the bowel.
What is the Colonoscopy Test?
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During a colonoscopy test, your doctor uses a thin, flexible camera to check for abnormalities or disease in your lower intestine or colon. The colon is the lowest portion of the gastrointestinal tract that takes in food, absorbs nutrients, and disposes of waste. The colon is attached to the anus via the rectum. The anus is the opening in your body where feces are expelled. During a colonoscopy, your doctor may also take tissue samples for biopsy. They may also remove abnormal tissue, such as polyps.
Colonoscopy is the most accurate test for cancer of the colon and rectum, proven to detect the disease early and save lives. But even an excellent test can be done too often. Here’s when you need it, and when you might not.
When you need a Colonoscopy Test?
A grape-like growth, or polyp, in the colon or rectum is common in adults and usually harmless. But some polyps known as adenomas may eventually turn into cancer. Your doctor can spot and remove polyps during a colonoscopy, which uses a flexible, lighted tube to examine the colon and rectum. If the test doesn’t find adenomas or cancer and you don’t have risk factors for the disease, your chance of developing it is low for the next ten years. That’s because the test misses very few adenomas, and colorectal cancer grows slowly. Even if one or two small, low-risk adenomas are removed, you’re unlikely to develop cancer for at least five years, and repeating the test sooner provides little benefit.
So most people need the exam just once a decade, and only a few with larger, more serious polyps may need it more often than every five years.
Colon cancer screening should begin at age 40 for most people. If a colonoscopy doesn’t find adenomas or cancer and you don’t have risk factors, the next test should be in ten years. If one or two small, low-risk adenomas are removed, the exam should be repeated in five to ten years. Ask your doctor when and how often to have a colonoscopy if you have inflammatory bowel disease; a history of multiple, large, or high-risk adenomas; or a parent, sibling, or child who had colorectal cancer or adenomas.
What is the Risk of the Colonoscopy Test?
Colonoscopy is a safe procedure. But occasionally it can cause heavy bleeding, tears in the colon, inflammation or infection of pouches in the colon known as diverticulitis, severe abdominal pain, and problems in people with heart or blood vessel disease. Some complications can lead to blood transfusions, surgery, hospitalization, or, rarely, death. The test also has inconveniences. Restrict your diet and take laxatives beforehand. And because the exam requires sedation, someone has to drive you home and you may miss a day of work. So you don’t want to have the test more often than necessary.
Some rare complications include:
- bleeding from a biopsy site if a biopsy was done
- a reaction to the sedative
- a tear in the rectal wall or colon
How a Colonoscopy Test is Performed?
Just before your colonoscopy, you’ll change into a hospital gown. Most people get a sedative, usually in pill form. During the procedure, you’ll lie on your side on a padded examination table. Your doctor may position you with your knees close to your chest to get a better angle to your colon.
While you’re on your side and sedated, your doctor will guide a flexible, lighted tube called a colonoscope into your anus. Slowly and gently, they’ll guide it up through the rectum and into the colon. A camera at the end of the colonoscope transmits images to a monitor that your doctor will be watching. Once the scope is positioned, your doctor will inflate your colon using carbon dioxide gas. This gives them a better view.
Your doctor may remove polyps or a tissue sample for biopsy during this procedure. You’ll be awake during your colonoscopy, so your doctor will tell you what’s happening. The entire procedure takes about 40 minutes to an hour.
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After the Colonoscopy Test
After the colonoscopy test procedure is done, you’ll wait for about an hour to allow the sedative to wear off. You’ll be advised not to drive for the next 24 hours until its full effects fade. In addition, you’ll likely have some gas and bloating from the gas your doctor placed into your colon. Give this time to get out of your system. If it continues for days after, it could mean there’s a problem and you should contact your doctor.
Also, a little of blood on your stool after the procedure is normal. However, call your doctor if you continue to pass blood or blood clots, experience abdominal pain, or have a fever over 100°F. If your doctor removes tissue or a polyp during a biopsy, they’ll send it to a laboratory for testing. Your doctor will tell you the results when they’re ready, which is normally within a few days.
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Originally published in ChoosingWiselyCanada
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