Colonoscopies Are Critical
A colonoscopy is one of the best tools health care professionals have to detect colon cancer. It is an examination of your large intestine (colon) that allows the physician to view the entire length of the large intestine, and can often help identify abnormal growths, inflamed tissue, ulcers, and bleeding.
It is most often used to look for early signs of cancer in the colon and rectum. It can also be used to look for causes of unexplained changes in bowel habits and to evaluate symptoms like abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, and weight loss.
The goal of colonoscopy prep is to eliminate all fecal matter from the colon so that the physician conducting the colonoscopy will have a clear view. Depending on your doctor, he will have very specific instructions about how to clean out your system.
You have 30 feet of digestive tract that needs to be thoroughly cleaned out. In order to remove all solid waste in the digestive tract quickly, it is necessary to cause diarrhea, leaving the colon clean. If waste is inside the colon when the procedure is performed, the physician may be unable to view the inside surface of the colon clearly.
When the view of the colon surface is obscured, it can lead to a longer exam and can reduce its accuracy. It may also make it necessary for a second exam or could lead to remaining undiagnosed conditions.
Expect lots of loose stools, so plan to stay home the day and evening before your scheduled test. The cleanout process means that you will have many liquid bowel movements over several hours.
Be prepared. Buy the softest toilet paper you can find and use flushable wipes as needed. To avoid too tender of a bottom, you may want to apply petroleum jelly or 1 percent hydrocortisone cream after every bathroom stop.
Colon Cleaning Products
An enema or oral laxatives will be prescribed to help you evacuate your bowels before a colon screening. The most common oral laxative (or lavage solution) requires you to drink four liters of non-absorbable liquid. There are several different brands of the oral laxative solution. Which one you use depends on what your pharmacist has in stock, what your insurance company covers, and the flavor you prefer. They are all clear and come in a variety of flavors and unflavored. You can add some flavoring, like sugar-free lemonade mix, but don’t add anything with bright colors or flavors, like cherry.
You can also try a liquid diet to clean out your colon. The liquid diet should be clear and not contain food colorings, and may include:
Fat-free bouillon or broth
Strained fruit juice
At the medical center, you’ll change into a gown and you’ll get an IV and an oxygen mask. You will probably have some form of sedative or anesthesia. You will be positioned on your left side during the procedure. The procedure itself only takes 30 to 60 minutes, but it is wise to plan on two to three hours for paperwork, waiting, preparation, and recovery.
During the procedure, the physician will insert a long, flexible, lighted tube called a colonoscope into your rectum. He will slowly guide it into the colon. The scope transmits an image of the inside of the colon which allows the physician to carefully examine its lining. In addition, the scope can blow air into the colon, inflating it to assist in visibility for the physician.
If you are taking blood-thinning medications, contact your prescribing physician for instructions. You may need to be off these drugs for one to ten days before the procedure, depending on the medicine.
The good thing about the procedure is that if anything abnormal is found, the physician can remove it at that time. Small instruments are passed through the scope and any removed tissue is sent to a lab for testing. If any bleeding occurs in the colon during the test, the doctor can pass a laser, heater probe, electrical probe, or special medicines through the scope to stop the bleeding. Very rarely, a polyp is too flat or big to remove during the procedure, and a separate surgery will need to be scheduled.
After the Procedure
You will be in the recovery room for about 45 minutes to an hour after the procedure. A family member can usually be with you as you wait and can also hear the results of the test from the doctor. Afterward, you will probably have a dry mouth and feel drowsy and hungry. The dry mouth and drowsiness are from the sedation. It is an outpatient procedure, but you can’t drive home afterward and you should take it easy the rest of the day.
One study showed virtual colonoscopies were successful in detecting 90 percent of tumors at least 10 millimeters in diameter, although a standard colonoscopy would still be needed to remove the polyps.
Virtual colonoscopy (VC) uses a CT scanner to take a series of X-rays of the colon. Using a computer, it creates a three-dimensional view. A small tube is inserted in the rectum while a radiologist checks the images for suspicious polyps. The procedure is used to diagnose colon and bowel disease, including polyps, diverticulosis, and cancer.
However, even with a VC, you still have to take the laxatives to clear out the bowels or it isn’t a useful diagnostic tool. It is less expensive (about one-third the cost of a colonoscopy), but if you need to have a polyp removed, you’ll have to have the colonoscopy done.