Understanding the exam
A colonoscopy is usually a routine exam that is used to diagnose some gastrointestinal (GI) issues and to detect colon cancer or its precursors. The colonoscopy procedure is performed by a physician with specialized training, usually a gastroenterologist.
The doctor uses a colonoscope (a long, flexible tube with a light and a tiny camera attached) to explore the entire length of the large intestine, which includes the colon and the rectum. The colonoscope is also equipped with a device that allows your doctor to remove polyps during a colonoscopy—a major step toward the prevention of colon cancer.
Path of the colonoscope during a colonoscopy
The colonoscope travels the length of the colon to help your doctor find abnormal polyps and lesions that could become cancerous.
What to expect
Before your colonoscopy, you will be given a prescription for a colonoscopy prep, which will flush solid waste from your large intestine so your doctor can see the walls of the colon and rectum clearly. The colonoscopy itself is virtually painless, as most patients are sedated during the procedure. In fact, many people report waking up from a colonoscopy with no memory of the exam at all.
If your doctor finds polyps during the procedure, he or she can remove the majority of them using the tools inside the colonoscope. If a polyp is too big to be safely removed using these tools, the doctor can take a biopsy (the removal of a small piece of tissue) for further testing.
Talking to your physician
Don't be embarrassed to talk to your physician about the colonoscopy process—millions of people have been through it before. Your doctor is there for you, so take the time you need to be comfortable with your options and confident in your choices.
Discuss all of your colonoscopy prep options with your doctor, who will help you choose the one that is best for you. Remember how important a complete bowel prep is for clear exam results.