More than 50,000 women and men in the United States die from colon cancer each year, according to the 2021 figures from the American Cancer Society. However, deaths from colorectal cancers have declined since 1970, largely due to increased screening via routine colonoscopies.
Colon cancer can be deadly, but it also grows slowly and so usually can be cured when it’s found at an early stage. If you’re at average risk, you only need to undergo a routine colon cancer screening with colonoscopy once a decade.
Whether you’re ready for your first, second, or third colonoscopy, our colorectal experts at Colon and Rectal Surgeons of Greater Hartford want you to understand the procedure. We’ve created this guide so you’ll be comfortable and well-informed on the day you receive your colorectal cancer screening.
You need to prepare
You can’t just show up on the day of your colonoscopy, ready to go. You must first prep your colon so it’s free of fecal matter. That way, your doctors get a good look at your entire colon and rectum so they can spot abnormalities, including polyps or cancerous lesions.
Basically, you switch to a bland, low-fiber diet a few days before your procedure and try to avoid any foods that give you gas. The day before your procedure, you fast by eliminating all solid foods from your diet and consume only clear broth, water, and other allowed liquids.
The night before, you must drink a large amount of laxatives so your bowels are completely clear for your procedure. You can find details on how to prepare for your colonoscopy here.
What happens in the office
When you arrive for your colonoscopy, we ask you to change into a hospital gown. We then give you a sedative that makes you feel drowsy and relaxed. It takes a while to work, so you wait in a holding area until it takes full effect.
You may wish to bring reading material or music with headphones to keep yourself occupied while you wait. We also take your blood pressure and other health measurements during this waiting period.
What happens on the table
Once your sedative has relaxed you completely, you lie on your side on the examination table. Our team monitors your vital signs during the procedure, including your:
- Blood pressure
- Heart rate
- Pulse oximetry
As you lie comfortably and quietly, your gastroenterologist inserts the colonoscope into your anus and threads it through your rectum and into your colon. A colonoscope is a thin tube that contains a light and a 3D camera that transmits magnified images to a nearby monitor in real time.
First, we widen your colon with a non-painful burst of air. Then your doctor moves the camera slowly to examine the entire length of your colon and rectum. They’re looking for abnormalities, such as cell changes that could be an early sign of cancer, cancerous lesions, and even potentially benign polyps.
When your gastroenterologist notices a suspicious area, they either take a biopsy or remove the polyp. The surgical tools to perform these operations are also contained in the colonoscope.
The entire procedure — including biopsies and polyp removal — only takes 30-60 minutes. We then send any tissue we removed to a lab for evaluation.
What happens afterward
Even though colonoscopy is a fairly quick procedure, you won’t be ready to leave our office right after it’s finished. You’re still groggy from the sedative. We must observe you in the holding area to ensure you recover on schedule.
Be sure to have a friend or family member pick you up after your colonoscopy; you won’t be able to drive or use public transportation. You should take it easy at home for the rest of the day. Drink lots of fluids to rehydrate yourself and avoid alcohol for at least 24 hours.
You can start to eat your normal, healthy diet as soon as you feel able. You may notice some blood in your stool for the first day or so, and also feel a little bit crampy. That’s normal. However, contact us immediately if you have symptoms such as:
- Large amounts of blood in stool
- Inability to pass gas or defecate
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pain
- Leg swelling
The results of your colonoscopy are ready within about 7-10 days. If your results are normal, you won’t have to have another colonoscopy for 10 years. If we find abnormalities, we then discuss their meaning and next steps with you.
Ensure that your colon is healthy and cancer-free by scheduling your colonoscopy today. Call our team at 860-242-8591, or schedule an appointment online.