Colonoscopy is the gold standard procedure for colon cancer screening and prevention. It is also used to investigate rectal bleeding, diarrhea, anemia and abdominal pain. Because colonoscopy allows for both the imaging of abnormal lesions and their removal, it is particularly helpful for identifying and destroying polyps, small abnormal growths that can become cancerous over time.

Screening Recommendations

Who should be screened for colon cancer and when should they start being screened?

Colon cancer is common are largely preventable by screening for and removing potentially precancerous polyps before they change into cancers. The risk for cancer increases dramatically over age 50, but in recent years there has been an increase in cancer rates in younger people. Everyone should consider screening as they get older.

Currently, the US Preventive Services Taskforce and the national gastroenterology societies recommend colonoscopy for people at average risk starting at age 50. However, the American Cancer Society recently changed its recommendation to begin screening at 45. Federal Law mandates insurance coverage for screening colonoscopy beginning at age 50. For people under age 50, coverage varies depending on their insurance.

Everyone should continue colon cancer prevention and screening until age 75. After 75, screening should be continued for people in good health, especially those at increased risk for colon cancer. After 85, however, further screening is unlikely to increase life span and is generally stopped.

The Procedure

Colonoscopy is a painless, safe, and routine procedure in which the endoscope is introduced into the rectum and advanced though the colon. Before your colonoscopy, you will receive sedation through and IV. You will not be conscious. During the procedure, the doctor will examine your colon in detail. If a polyp is found, it will be removed. Biopsies may be taken if other abnormalities are seen. Complications from a colonoscopy are very infrequent, but include reactions to sedation, bowel perforation and bleeding. The risk of complications is particularly low in healthy people having a screening test and are greatly outweighed by the benefits of colon cancer prevention and early detection.

Preparing for Your Procedure

A strict, clear liquid diet must be followed and laxatives taken on the day before a colonoscopy. It is essential to properly complete your colonoscopy preparations or your doctor will not be able to examine your colon adequately. You will receive instructions from your gastroenterologist at the time the procedure is scheduled. Various meditations may be prescribed in preparation for your appointment. For detailed information on how to prepare for your colonoscopy, click here.

Colonoscopies are performed at MarinHealth Medical Center or at the Endoscopy Center of Marin.