Utah Cancer Control Program A Unified Cancer Prevention Approach

Colonoscopies

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Between 2005 and 2010, more than 1,000 Utahns died from colon cancer.

Luckily, there are screenings that can find colon cancer early. A colonoscopy is one of these screenings. And, a colonoscopy can even prevent colon cancer.

Click on the links below for answers to some questions you may have about colonoscopies.

What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a test used to see the inside of the colon and rectum. These are the two main parts of the the large intestine. Doctors use colonoscopies to look for signs of colon cancer.

Doctors can also find growths in the colon called "polyps" when they do a colonoscopy. These polyps can turn into colon cancer.

If polyps are found, they can be removed during the same colonoscopy. This keeps them from turning into cancer.

How do I prepare for a colonoscopy?

To prepare for a colonoscopy, patients need to clean out their bowel. This makes it so there is no food or waste in the colon (large intestine) and the doctor can clearly see the colon wall. To do this, your doctor may tell you to go on our clear liquid diet for 1 to 3 days before the test.

Your doctor will also probably tell you to drink a special mixture or take a certain medication which will help your body empty the bowel.

Be sure to tell your doctor about all medical conditions and any medications, vitamins, or supplements you take regularly.

What should I ask my doctor?

Before you get a colonoscopy, it is important to talk to your doctor about whether a colonoscopy is the best for test for you, and about what to expect. Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor:

  • What screening test(s) do you recommend for me?
  • How do I prepare? Do I need to change my diet or my usual medication schedule?
  • What's involved in the tests? Will it be uncomfortable or painful?
  • Is there any risk involved?
  • When will I get results? Who will give me the results?
  • Who will do the exam?
  • Will I need to bring someone with me?
What are the benefits of a colonoscopy?

Having a colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer has many benefits.

  • A colonoscopy can find colon cancer early, before there are any symptoms and when it is easier to treat.
  • A colonoscopy can find growths called "polyps" that can turn into cancer if they aren't removed.
  • Polyps can be removed during the same colonoscopy that finds them.
  • Most people don't need a colonoscopy every year.
How is a colonoscopy done?

First, people who have a colonoscopy must prepare by making sure their bowel is clean. On the day of the colonoscopy, patients are given mediation to help them relax and prevent them from feeling any pain.

During the actual colonoscopy, a long, flexible, lighted tube called a colonoscope, or scope, is inserted into the anus. The doctor slowly guides this through the rectum and into the colon. The scope blows air into the colon so the doctor can see the sides better. A camera on the scope sends a video image of the inside of the colon to a computer screen. Once the scope reaches the end of the colon (the opening to the small intestine) is is slowly removed. The doctor will look at the colon one more time while removed the scope.

Are colonoscopies painful?

Most people who have a colonoscopy say they couldn't feel anything. They just remember laying down on the table, taking some medicine, and then waking up after it was over. for most people, colonoscopies are not painful.

When should I have my first colonoscopy?

People with no symptoms or family history of colon cancer should have their first colonoscopy at age 50.

People who have a family history of colon cancer should talk to their doctor about when they should be screened. Most people with a family history of colon cancer should be screened at age 40.

People who have symptoms of colon cancer should talk to their doctor right away. Symptoms of colon cancer may include:

  • rectal bleeding
  • change in bowel habits
  • diarrhea for a long period of time (3 months)
  • constipation for a long period of time (3 months)
  • abdominal pain (3 months)
  • unexplained weight loss
How often should I have a colonoscopy?

Always follow your doctor's advice.

A person who's first colonoscopy is normal can usually wait 10 years before having another one, unless symptoms develop.

A person who has polyps or anything else unusual should follow their doctor's recommendations.

Do women need colonoscopies?

Yes. Colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) is one of the most common types of cancer in men and women.

How much do colonoscopies cost?

The cost of a colonoscopy varies from place to place. Typically, the cost ranges between $1,000 and $3,000.

Check with your insurance company to see if colonoscopies are covered. Most people with health insurance only have to pay a co-pay.

With health care reform, insurance companies are required to begin covering the entire cost of cancer screenings, including colonoscopies. This means there will be no cost for the patient.

Are colonoscopies covered by health insurance?

Check with your insurance company to see if colonoscopies are covered. Most people with health insurance only have to pay a co-pay.

With health care reform, insurance companies are required to begin covering the entire cost of cancer screenings, including colonoscopies. This means there will be no cost for the patient.