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5 Things to Know About Getting a Colonoscopy

Photo credit: iStock/takasuu

Photo credit: iStock/takasuu

With Colon Cancer Awareness Month behind us, you’re surely aware of the necessity in getting a colonoscopy. However, we’ve found that there are still misconceptions about when and why people should get them. Here are five things to know about colonoscopies that should help calm your anxieties. 

1. The procedure isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. A colonoscopy uses a slender, flexible tube with a light and video camera on the end that allows the doctor to view the entire colon. The entire colonoscopy, during which the patient remains under sedation, takes about 30 minutes and isn’t painful.

2. They’re done to find pre-cancerous polyps. Most colon cancers come from abnormal growths of tissue in the lining of the colon called polyps. A colonoscopy not only identifies potentially pre-cancerous polyps but also removes them.

3. The preparation isn’t that scary, either. In the past, doctors required patients drink a gallon of a prescribed preparation in a short period of time before the procedure. There’s been considerable progress. The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) uses a low-volume (half gallon) and split dose prep. The patient drinks one quart, waits six hours, and then the second.

4. Screening should begin between ages 45 and 50. For average-risk individuals – those without a family history or the presence of other medical conditions – screening should start at age 50. Some guidelines recommend that African-American men, who may be at increased risk at a younger age, start screenings at 45. If a person’s first colonoscopy is normal, the procedure should be repeated every 10 years, unless risk factors exist.

5. It’s preventative health care! Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death and is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer. Early detection and proper screening by colonoscopy can prevent 90 percent of colon cancers.

For more information about colon cancer screening or to make an appointment at Penn Medicine, click here.