A colonoscopy is an examination of the rectum and colon (large intestine). The purpose of the exam is to identify abnormalities and remove or biopsy polyps. Because your physician is able to identify and remove polyps that may be precursors to colorectal cancer ,a colonoscopy greatly reduces risk of colon cancer. We recommend that patients have their first colonoscopy at age 50 unless they are at higher risk of cancer due to factors like a family member diagnosed with colon cancer. For information on how often to have a colonoscopy visit Guidelines for Colonoscopy Surveillance.
If you are scheduled to have a colonoscopy you will need to do a bowel prep prior to the exam to ensure that the physician gets a clear and thorough look at your colon. The bowel prep is the hardest part because, with anesthesia, patients remember nothing or very little of the exam. During the colonoscopy, your physician will insert a flexible tube with a tiny video camera into your colon. This devise also can perform biopsies and remove polyps. Most colonoscopies take half of an hour, and your physician will report his/her findings to you afterwords.
As with any procedure, there is some risk associated with colonoscopy. This risk is extremely small. There is a small chance of puncturing a hole in the colon which can lead to bleeding and potentially to temporary hospitalization. The risk of colon cancer far outweighs the risk associated with the exam.