Your physician may recommend a colonoscopy, the first line test for colon cancer screening, to evaluate digestive health symptoms or to look for early signs of colon cancer. Some form of screening is something everyone needs. You should begin getting a colonoscopy at age 50. If you have a strong family history of colon cancer, which usually entails a first degree relative who has been diagnosed with the disease, screening begins at age 40 or earlier. African-Americans should begin at age 45. If you’re experiencing one or more of the following symptoms, your doctor may also recommend the procedure:
- Persistent rectal bleeding
- Significant persistent changes in bowel habits
- Iron deficiency/anemia
Preparation for your colonoscopy begins the day before you have it. You’ll need to have a diet with only clear liquids (like chicken broth and jello) 24 hours before the procedure to make sure your colon is as clean as possible. Coffee and tea are also OK. It’s recommended you not eat seeds or nuts a few days before as well. The night before your procedure, you’ll also be asked to drink a bowel preparation, which will allow your doctor to see clearly inside your colon during the colonoscopy.
Most colonoscopies are done in an office setting at an ambulatory endoscopy center. You should arrive an hour before your procedure is scheduled. During the procedure, you’ll be brought into an exam room and given an IV with anesthesia in your arm. It usually takes anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes and most patients wake up pain-free. Your doctor will place a small camera in your rectum that goes to the end of the colon where it connects to the small intestine to look for abnormalities and polyps. They’ll remove polyps and take biopsies, if needed – both are painless processes. Your doctor will monitor you as you wake up and most patients are able to go home about 30 minutes later. You’ll need someone to drive you home, but you can eat as you normally would that day.
Cone Health has an exceptional network of board-certified gastroenterologists and primary care providers dedicated to educating the community about the importance of screening for colon cancer and making sure patients get colonoscopies within the recommended time frame.
Steven Armbruster, MD, is a gastroenterologist at LeBauer Gastroenterology and a member of Cone Health Medical Group. He graduated from medical school at Loyola University of Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, completed his residency at National Naval Medical Center and fellowship at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Dr. Armbruster is a member of American Gastroenterology Association, the American College of Gastroenterology, the North Carolina Medical Society, the Greater Greensboro Society of Medicine and is board certified in gastroenterology.