Colonoscopy is a subject you may not know a lot about—you may have heard stories from friends about the prep, but this may be the extent of your knowledge. Colonoscopy is the gold standard for detecting colorectal cancer (both colon cancer and cancer of the rectum). Colon cancer is the #2 leading cause of cancer death, and the American Cancer Society estimates that 1 in 23 men and 1 in 24 women will develop colon cancer at some point in their lifetime. With these staggering statistics, it’s a wise idea to get an overview of colonoscopy and learn why the prep—and the procedure itself—really isn’t so bad. 

What Is a Colonoscopy?

The instrument used during a colonoscopy is known as a colonoscope. It’s a small, thin tube inserted into the colon (also known as the large intestine). During the procedure, the physician is checking for abnormalities. Colorectal cancer typically presents with polyps, and the colonoscope allows your healthcare provider to see if there are any polyps in your colon, rectum, or both. The doctor may also perform a biopsy during the procedure. This is when your physician takes a small tissue sample from your colon or rectum in order to study it further. What makes a colonoscopy different from other diagnostic tests is that your provider can remove polyps during the procedure, if your colon cancer is in the early stages. There are several stages of colon cancer, ranging from 0 to 4.

What Are the Stages of Colorectal Cancer? 

Colorectal cancer stages vary from 0 to 4, with 0 being a precancerous stage and 4 being the most severe. The stages are as follows:

  • Stage 0. This stage is also referred to as carcinoma in situ. Polyps have not begun to form yet, but abnormal cells in the colon or rectum are detectable and very treatable. 
  • Stage 1. This is the stage where polyps are beginning to form, or you may have some polyps already. However, cancer has only penetrated the mucosa (lining) of the colon or rectum and has not spread to any surrounding areas. If you have stage 1 colorectal cancer and have a colonoscopy, the physician can remove the polyps during this stage, and it’s likely you won’t need further treatment—just regular checkups and testing. 
  • Stage 2. During stage 2, cancer spreads to the walls of the colon or rectum and may have also spread to connecting tissue. Stage 2 colon cancer is still very treatable; however, it is usually treated with surgery to remove part of the colon or rectum as well as chemotherapy.
  • Stage 3. Stage 3 colon cancer has spread to the lymph nodes during stage 3. Stage 3 treatment is similar to stage 2 treatment, but the lymph nodes would also be removed via surgery, and your physician may also order radiation to help eradicate cancer. 
  • Stage 4. This is the most serious stage of colorectal cancer. This means that cancer has traveled beyond the lymph nodes and has spread to other organs, such as the lungs or liver. The survival rate for stage 2 colon cancer is approximately 72%, and the survival rate for stage 4 colon cancer is 14%. This is why colonoscopy and early detection are so important. 

How Long Does a Colonoscopy Take?

Many patients are anxious about having a colonoscopy because they’re worried about taking time off work or away from their families. The actual colonoscopy procedure itself takes about 30 minutes. You can resume your regular diet immediately after (unless otherwise instructed), and your recovery time will only last about a day before you can resume normal activities. You may also be wondering what the prep is like—you will have to prep the night before and take some other precautions two or three days before the procedure. 

Colonoscopy prep typically forms in the form of a liquid that you drink. Your doctor may have you do split dosing, which means you drink some liquid the night before and some the morning of the procedure. Typically, your physician will ask you to avoid popcorn, nuts, seeds, and corn for three days before your procedure or ask you to adopt a low-fiber diet in the days leading up to the procedure. When it is 24 hours before your procedure, you’ll have to switch to a liquid diet (no alcohol), which includes water, black coffee, ginger ale, white grape juice, apple juice, and clear broth. JELL-O is ok as well, provided it is not red or blue. When it is four hours before your procedure, you will have to stop all liquids entirely. If you have general anesthesia, you will need to stop liquids at midnight the night before your procedure. It is essential to follow all instructions to the letter. If your colon is not completely emptied, your provider will not be able to perform the colonoscopy.

Colonoscopy Isn’t So Bad—Here Are Five Reasons Why 

As you can see, colonoscopy prep only requires paying attention to your diet in the days leading up to the procedure and fasting typically the night before or the morning of. Recovery is a mere 24 hours—so you can get back to work or other duties fairly quickly. Other reasons colonoscopy isn’t so bad to include:

  1. The prep isn’t so bad. All you have to do is mind your diet and drink the colonoscopy prep liquid according to your physician’s instructions. You will have to use the bathroom frequently the night before, but often you will have no side effects from the prep at all besides mild abdominal cramping. 
  2. Insurance covers the cost. If you are age 50 or over, your insurance will fully cover the cost of a colonoscopy. As of 2018, the American Cancer Society updated its guidelines, advising that those 45 and over should have a colonoscopy, instead of age 50. Not all insurance companies have caught up with that guideline, but if you are high-risk (colon cancer runs in the family, you have had polyps before), you can get an insurance-covered colonoscopy at any age.
  3. It keeps you from being a statistic. Instead of being a number compiled into colorectal cancer statistics, you can opt for early detection (colonoscopy). Remember, if the cancer is noticed between stages 0 and 2 (with substages in between), it is very treatable, and survival rates are encouraging. 
  4. Colonoscopy isn’t painful. Whether you opt for local or general anesthesia, you will be sedated in some form, so you won’t feel any of the procedure. You shouldn’t have any pain after the procedure either. If your physician removes polyps, you may notice some rectal bleeding, but it isn’t painful. 
  5. It’s an opportunity to cleanse. You may have heard that gut and colon cleanses are good for the body—colonoscopy prep is the ultimate colon cleanse. Not only does it clean your system, but rest for 24 hours after gives you a chance to slow down, take a break, and rest. 

If you need more information about colorectal cancer or colonoscopy, or you would like to make an appointment to schedule a colonoscopy, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at Carolina Digestive Health Associates today. We provide complete and comprehensive treatment when it comes to any gastrointestinal problem or concern.