Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Colonoscopies

One of deadliest cancers in the United States is also the most treatable, so what’s stopping people from taking the necessary steps towards prevention?

Scheduling a colonoscopy.

According to the American Cancer Society, 150,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and more than 50,000 die from it. Unlike other cancers, colorectal cancer, commonly referred to as colon cancer, usually begins as a polyp inside the colon. If doctors find this growth early, they can remove it and reduce the risk of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body. This also means a 90% survival rate in patients diagnosed five years later.

“I cannot begin to list all the reasons patients have explained to me or that I have heard from individuals not wanting to undergo this procedure,” says Fred Weigand, MD, a ProMedica Physician specializing in general surgery. Many cite a fear of the unknown or incorrect perceptions of the procedure for not scheduling an appointment.

Understanding leads to action, so in an effort to ease anxieties about colonoscopies, the ProMedica HealthConnect team, with the help and expertise of Dr. Weigand, present you with a step-by-step guide to what to expect before, during and after your colonoscopy.

Before Your Colonoscopy

Preparation for the colonoscopy involves a bowel cleansing agent, as well as monitoring any medication, pre-existing medical conditions or diseases. This is all discussed thoroughly with the patient and coordinated with the medical team prior to the procedure.  Most of the time it involves an office visit.

ProMedica offers a new approach to colonoscopies that allows patients to fast track their procedure. The open access colonoscopy program is recommended for patients under the age of 70, who are deemed in good health and who have a doctor’s referral. With open access colonoscopy, your colonoscopy is scheduled without a prior specialist consultation, saving patients time and cost.

During Your Colonoscopy

Patients arrive at the endoscopy suite prior to the procedure to undergo pre-anesthesia preparation, review of the patient’s medical history and coordination of any last minute care that would be appropriate. Usually an IV is established. The prep work will take anywhere between 30-45 minutes. Patients are then transported back to the endoscopy suite where anesthesia monitoring is placed onto the patient (EKG, blood pressure, pulse oximetry etc.)

Dr. Weigand explains his procedures are done under conscious sedation, where patients are placed into an unconscious state where they are able to breathe on their own, but have no conscious awareness of their surroundings. In essence, the patient is asleep. Patients experience no pain upon waking and most usually have no recollection of the procedure being performed. This is all carefully monitored by the department of anesthesia.

A very small camera at the end of a long, thin and flexible tube is gently inserted inside the colon, and air is puffed into the colon to keep it open. This helps the doctor check for growths, polyps or other issues.

What Are They Looking For?

During your colonoscopy, your doctor is looking for small growths that are the beginning of cancer. Other times, he or she is looking for abnormalities of the lining or location of a bleeding source, and will take various samples and biopsies.

Dr. Weigand says colon cancer often doesn’t produce symptoms until the cancers have become so large or spread to other parts of the body, making early detection of the polyps critical.

“The theory behind colon cancer screening is to identify the lesions when they are small and possibly remove them during the colonoscopy,” he says. “Removing the tumor growths before they have turned into a colon cancer or shortly after they have become cancerous significantly improves the patient’s prognosis and subsequent health care management.”

If a polyp is found, your doctor will likely remove it during the test to perform a biopsy. During the biopsy, lab professionals will look for cancer or pre-cancer cells.

After Your Colonoscopy

After the procedure, the patient is taken to the post-anesthesia recovery area and within 45 minutes to 1-1/2 hours, most patients can be discharged from the outpatient facility. As the anesthesia wears off, the patient may feel a little light-headed. Most people don’t experience pain after their colonoscopy, but some may find a small amount of discomfort. The air pumped into the colon during the procedure may also cause some slight cramping and gas, but this will subside. Most people miss work the day of the test and will need someone to drive them home.

Your doctor will recommend how often you will need a colonoscopy, depending on your estimated risk for colon cancer. The average person will need to have theirs every 10 years, beginning at age 50.

If you’re over the age of 50 and have not yet scheduled your colonoscopy, it isn’t too late. Talk to your doctor about a recommended screening plan.