Colonoscopy questions and answers

What is colon cancer screening?

Colon cancer screening is picking up a disease before you develop any symptoms. So colon cancer screening is looking for colon cancer before you would have any sign that something could be wrong.

How do you get a colon cancer screening?

There are a couple of methods of colon cancer screening. The most common methods are having a colonoscopy, which is looking at the inside lining of your colon for growths, polyps, or cancer, and trying to remove them or taking biopsy samples, and then stool testing, which is something you typically do in your home.

If you're pretty healthy, do you need to be screened for colon cancer?

Well that’s the thing, the best people to test probably don’t have any symptoms. Colon cancer, when you find it early, is easier to treat and probably more curable. So you want to find it before you develop symptoms.

What are symptoms of colon cancer?

There could be a few different symptoms linked to colon cancer. You might have unintentional weight loss for no reason, blood in your bowel movements, or a change in the quality or character of your bowel movements. But, you may also not have symptoms.

Can you tell me about the home screening test?

Home screening tests are generally stool tests, and there are a few of them. The most common home screening test is a FIT test. You would collect a sample on your own, and then you would either bring it to your doctor's office or mail it. That screening test is for a person who is at average risk of having colon cancer.

Why should you have a colonoscopy?

Undergoing a colonoscopy is a really easy way to protect yourself from cancer. Colon cancers are unfortunately very common in men and women in the United States. The benefit of a colonoscopy compared to other screening methods is that it allows for immediate detection and removal of polyps or pre-cancerous lesions. So you are basically preventing cancer from even developing, and it's one of the more effective cancer prevention methods that we have access to.

Preparing for a colonoscopy is supposed to be the worst part of a colonoscopy. Is that true?

Unfortunately, colonoscopies have a bad rap. Most people who have undergone a colonoscopy say that the worry is actually far worse than the preparation and the test itself. Fortunately, we have a lot more options when it comes to bowel prep these days, so the best thing to do is to talk to your doctor about which prep is best for you.

How do you schedule a colonoscopy?

Most people will actually speak to their primary care provider, and get a referral from them. But if you don’t have a primary care provider, or you are concerned about the best thing to do, please call our schedulers and they will be able to guide your further.

Will insurance cover a colonoscopy?

Most insurance providers do cover colonoscopies as part of colon cancer screening benefits, but the best thing to do is to prepare to contact your insurance provider and verify that beforehand.

Are there risks associated with a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is usually considered a very safe procedure. It is done by experienced doctors that are well trained. It’s usually very safe, but there are some rare risks. One risk is perforation, or tearing, of the bowl, again it’s rare. Another complication could be a bleed, usually it’s a minor bleed during the procedure, and it’s pretty simple to treat that with an injection or clips. Those are the main risks.

What happens if your doctor finds a polyp during your colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is not just a diagnostic tool, it’s actually a treatment tool as well. So if a polyp is found during your colonoscopy, most of them can be removed at the time of colonoscopy. Small polyps usually do not harbor cancer, but we still send every polyp removed through pathology histology examination, and we will call you back with the results.

How much time does a colonoscopy take?

Because of sedation and the safety of leaving after sedation, you will need to have a driver, a responsible companion to take you home. You cannot go by yourself. After the procedure, most people will resume their function within several hours, some will need maybe a little rest at home. Although it’s possible to go to work the day after a colonoscopy, we do ask people to stay off work for 24 hours.

When should you start getting a colonoscopy?

The average risk patient, which means somebody with no family history, no personal history of polyps, or anything, should have their first colonoscopy at the age of 50. If you do have a family history, colonoscopies usually will start at the age of 40. But it is better to tell all of the details to your doctor, and they can advise you on how early you should start.

Last reviewed: 
February 2018

Interested in using our health content?