What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a diagnostic procedure performed by a gastroenterologist. It involves insertion of a thin, lighted tube with a camera on the end, into the rectum and up into the digestive tract. Pictures are taken and shown on a screen, allowing the doctor to accurately check for colon polyps, colon cancer, digestive disorders and other gut-related diseases. If any colon polyps are found during a colonoscopy, the doctor is also able to gently remove them and take sample tissue for biopsy (check for cancer).

Does a colonoscopy hurt?

Colonoscopy is not painful. You will receive anesthesia for the procedure, which will make you sleepy and relaxed but still awake so you're able to move into different positions as needed.

How do you prepare for a colonoscopy?

Your doctor's office will advise you on how to prepare for colonoscopy. You may need to stop taking certain medications and supplements for a period of time in advance of your procedure. You will also be given instructions for a liquid diet to be followed in the days leading up to your appointment. Since you'll be receiving anesthesia for the procedure, you'll need to arrange for someone to drive you home afterwards.

Do I have to get a colonoscopy?

We encourage everyone age 45 and older to get a routine colonoscopy. Colonoscopy remains the most effective method for early detection of colorectal cancer, a disease which is on the rise in the United States yet is largely preventable with early screening and detection. If you have a family history of colon cancer or other colorectal disorders, your doctor may recommend earlier screening.

How often do you have to get a colonoscopy?

Once you have had your first colonoscopy, it's recommended that you get screened every 10 years unless you are at high risk for colorectal cancer and other disorders of the colon and rectum.

Are there alternatives to having a colonoscopy?

You may have heard about other options besides colonoscopy test for colorectal cancer, such as at-home stool tests. At Main Line Health, we do not endorse this method of testing due to a lack of evidence that these types of tests can detect colon cancer in the early stages as effectively as a colonoscopy procedure.

To discuss colorectal cancer screening options or to schedule an appointment with a Main Line Health colorectal or gastroenterology specialist, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.