Colorectal cancer (or colon cancer) is the third most common malignancy in the United States and the second most common cause of cancer death. Fortunately, through Surgical Associates, there are convenient ways to screen and prevent colon cancer, right here in central and northern Wisconsin.
Colon cancer usually starts as a small, benign growth called a polyp. Finding and removing polyps early can help prevent cancer from ever forming. A colonoscopy is a very effective and relatively painless cancer screening method used to detect polyps or abnormalities and remove them. Certain kinds of polyps will almost always become cancerous if they are not removed, making colonoscopy screening vitally important for those at risk.
A colonoscopy can also provide your primary care physician with information for treating unexplained changes in bowel habits, pain or bleeding in the abdominal area, weight loss, constipation and diarrhea.
Your primary care physician will advise you to schedule a colonoscopy if you:
- Have a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps
- Have inflammatory bowel disease causing colitis
- Have a genetic syndrome such as hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (Lynch), familial polyposis, or Gardener’s
- Are experiencing rectal bleeding
- Are between the ages of 50-75
The quality of information gathered from a colonoscopy is directly related to a patient’s preparation prior to the procedure.
For the best possible experience and to ensure a successful colonoscopy screening, you will need to complete the following steps before your procedure:
- Provide a full medical history.
- Drink plenty of liquids with every meal in the days leading up to the procedure.
- Complete bowel prep as directed.
- This can include drinking a liquid laxative or taking pills to clear your colon. Your doctor will tell you how long before your procedure bowel prep must be completed. During the bowel prep, it is advised to stay at home. You will want to be near a bathroom as the prep causes frequent, loose stools.
- Do not eat on the day of your appointment. Only drink clear liquids, such as broth.
- The prep is intended to clear out your colon, so eating solid foods defeats the purpose of the prep.
- Avoid artificial food coloring in your liquids. Red, orange, purple and other food coloring may cause the lining of the colon to appear redder than it really is and could lead to a false diagnosis.
- Discontinue use of aspirin, iron tablets, or other medications as directed.
- If you take prescription medicines in the morning, talk with your doctor about how they should be managed the day of your procedure.
- Arrange for someone to drive you to and from your appointment.
If this is your first time undergoing a colonoscopy screening, the preparation can be confusing. Please contact Surgical Associates with any questions or concerns.
It’s normal to feel nervous before a colonoscopy, but at Surgical Associates, we do whatever we can to prevent any discomfort during the procedure. Patients are lightly sedated before to the colonoscopy, and most do not remember the procedure when they wake up.
During the colonoscopy screening, a highly-skilled surgeon will guide a thin, flexible camera through the rectum and into the colon. The scope will inflate the colon with air to give the surgeon a better view. If any polyps are found during your colonoscopy, they will be removed and sent away for testing. The surgeon will also remove any other abnormal tissue that may warrant a biopsy. For most patients, a colonoscopy takes 30 minutes to an hour, depending on whether any polyps are removed.
No other cancer screening procedure has been more effective in decreasing mortality. According to the American College of Surgeons, 75-90 percent of all colon cancer could be prevented if everyone at risk participated in a colonoscopy screening.
Following the procedure, you will be moved to the recovery room where the sedative will begin to wear off. During this time, you may feel groggy and weak. You will need to spend about an hour in the recovery room, but the effects from the sedative may take up to a day to fully wear off. This is why you will need someone to drive you home following your procedure.
Because air is pumped into the colon during the procedure, you may have gas pains, bloating, or cramping until the air is expelled. If a polyp is removed or a biopsy is taken during the colonoscopy, you may notice blood in your stool for a couple days following the procedure.
At Surgical Associates, we advise that you take the following steps following your procedure:
- Have a friend or family member drive you home.
- Spend the evening at home relaxing. You may have mild discomfort and drowsiness from the sedative.
- Take over-the-counter pain relief if you feel sore following the procedure.
- Drink plenty of liquids while gaining your strength back, and resume eating regular meals. You may need to eat a modified diet following your procedure if you had any polyps removed.
- Avoid drinking alcohol, driving, or operating machinery for 24 hours following the procedure.
It is normal to pass a small amount of blood following your procedure, but consult with your doctor if you continue to pass blood or clots, experience persistent abdominal pain, or develop a fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
If tests come back normal, and you don’t have any risk factors, you may not need another colonoscopy for 10 years.
Who needs a colonoscopy?
Generally, you should consider getting a colonoscopy if you are between the ages of 50-75. As you age, the walls of the colon are more prone to the growth of polyps. Other considerations include a family history of cancer, personal history of cancer or polyps, or having inflammatory bowel disease causing colitis.
What do I need to bring the day of my procedure?
Insurance card, driver’s license, a friend or family member to drive you home, your physician’s contact information, and a list of known allergies
How often will I need to schedule a colonoscopy?
If tests come back normal after your first colonoscopy, you shouldn’t need to schedule another one for about ten years. However, any risk factors making you more likely to develop cancer may make it advisable to be screened more frequently.
What are the risks or complications associated with this procedure?
As with any procedure, there is the potential for complications, but these are very rare. Complications may include an adverse reaction to the sedation, bleeding, infection, or a tear in the bowel wall.
Are there other methods of screening other than colonoscopy?
Yes, there are other methods, but none are as accurate at detecting polyps as a colonoscopy. An X-ray examination of the colon or a computerized tomography, a test that takes pictures of the inside of the colon, are alternative options to the traditional colon screening. However, if either of those tests detect polyps or cancer, a colonoscopy will need to be done to explore them further.
Is a colonoscopy painful?
No, colonoscopies are usually not painful. Almost all colonoscopies can be performed using intravenous sedation, in which you are very drowsy but comfortable and still breathing on your own. This type of sedation also has a mild amnesiac effect, so patients typically do not remember the procedure.
Will I be able to eat after my procedure?
The majority of patients resume a normal diet after being released. Depending on the result of the procedure, dietary modifications may be recommended.
When will I receive my biopsy results?
Your doctor’s office will contact you within 1 to 2 weeks with any findings either via phone or U.S. mail.