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The best tool against colorectal cancer is prevention. Getting a colonoscopy can be scary. Laura K. Bianchi, MD, Gastroenterology, Internal Medicine, at NorthShore, answers some of common questions that patients have:
Who can I talk to about getting a colonoscopy?
Talk to your primary care physician about when you are due to start screening for colorectal cancer with colonoscopy. If you have already had a colonoscopy, you can check with your GI doctor or your primary care physician regarding when you are due for your next colonoscopy. If based on discussion with your doctor(s) you are due now for your colonoscopy, you can contact our scheduling department at 888.364.6400.
Does everyone need to get tested? How often would I need to have one?
We recommend that everyone start screening for colorectal cancer at the age of 50. Most of our recommendations suggest that African-Americans should start screening at age 45. If you have a family history of colon polyps or colon cancer, or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, talk to your doctor about when to start screening.
The recommendation regarding how soon to come back should be determined by your GI doctor. This interval depends on your personal and family history and takes into account the number, type, size and location of your polyps. We also take into account the quality of your bowel preparation (if a significant amount of stool remains in your colon it can be difficult to see polyps and we may ask you to return sooner).
How do I prepare for a colonoscopy?
The bowel preparation includes a clear liquid diet the day prior to the procedure. You are also asked to drink a fluid to cleanse your colon the day prior to the procedure and the morning of the procedure. The specific recommendations for our most commonly prescribed bowel preparation, TriLyte, can be found online.
I’ve heard the solution is weird-tasting. Why do I need to drink it?
The bowel preparation fluid is needed to flush out your colon so that the lining of your colon is clean. This allows your doctor to see and remove all polyps, including subtle polyps. A sub-optimal preparation can lead to returning for your next colonoscopy at a shorter interval.
How long does a colonoscopy take? Will I be awake for it?
The colonoscopy procedure takes about 20-30 minutes, but be prepared to be in the GI Lab for 2-3 hours. Your level of alertness depends on the type of sedation used for your procedure. All patients receive medication to relax them and reduce discomfort during the procedure. Some abdominal cramping similar to gas cramps is not uncommon.
What goes on during a colonoscopy?
During the colonoscopy your GI doctor evaluates the lining of your colon. Polyps, if identified, are removed. Biopsies may be obtained if there is any evidence of inflammation. In addition we make a note of additional findings such as diverticulosis or hemorrhoids.
What can my doctor learn from the test?
The main goal of a screening colonoscopy is to identify and remove polyps. Your doctor will use the information gathered to determine your risk of developing future polyps and based on that risk, as you to come back in 10 years or less for your next colonoscopy.
After the colonoscopy, are there any next steps if my doctor thinks something is wrong?
If polyps are removed during your colonoscopy, your doctor sends these to our laboratory to be evaluated under the microscope. Once your doctor knows the type of polyps, they use that information in combination with the size, number and location of polyps and make a recommendation for when you should return for your next colonoscopy.