A colonoscopy is a test that looks inside your large intestine (colon) using a colonoscope—a long, thin flexible tube with a tiny camera and a light on the end.
Reasons to Get a Colonoscopy
Your doctor may recommend you get a colonoscopy to screen for colorectal cancer, or to help provide a diagnosis if you experience:
- Ongoing, unexplained abdominal pain
- Unexplained iron deficiency anemia
- Unexplained weight loss
- Blood in your stool
- A change in bowel movements
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
Do I Need A Colorectal Cancer Screening?
Screenings help detect diseases before symptoms appear, which means conditions can be treated more easily and effectively. Colonoscopies also help prevent cancer by finding and removing precancerous polyps—abnormal growths in the inner lining of the colon. Colonoscopies reduce deaths from colorectal cancer by 60 to 70 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.
Both men and women should be screened beginning at age 50, or earlier if you have risk factors. Common risk factors include:
- Previous colorectal cancer or polyps
- A history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
- A parent, sibling or child developed colorectal cancer or polyps younger than age 60
- A family history of genetic syndromes such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC)
Lifestyle factors that may increase your risk of colorectal cancer include physical inactivity, obesity, smoking, heavy alcohol use and a diet high in red and/or processed meat.
Additional Tests for Colon Cancer
A colonoscopy is the only test that allows a doctor to see your entire colon, but other tests are available. Your doctor can help you choose the test that’s right for you. Additional screening options include:
- Fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) – Detects blood in your stool
- Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) – Detects blood in your stool
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy – Similar to a colonoscopy, but views only the lower third of your colon
If these tests find an abnormality, you’ll need a follow-up colonoscopy.
What to Expect
When you schedule your colonoscopy, you’ll receive instructions on how to clean out your colon to prepare for your procedure. Follow the instructions exactly to ensure your colonoscopy can performed successfully and you get the most accurate results.
Your procedure will be performed in one of our three dedicated GI procedures units by a gastroenterologist—a doctor who specializes in the digestive system.
Just before the procedure starts, you’ll receive medicine to make you sleepy and keep you comfortable throughout the entire procedure. Your doctor will use the colonoscope to see inside your colon. During the colonoscopy, your doctor also can take biopsies of any abnormal areas and remove polyps. The test itself usually takes 10 to 30 minutes.
After your colonoscopy, you’ll spend at least a half hour in our recovery area. Before you leave, your doctor will share the results of your exam. You must arrange for a responsible adult to drive you home afterward.
How to Prepare for Your Colonoscopy
Download additional information and complete instructions to prepare for your colonoscopy.
Standard Preparation for a Colonoscopy at UNC Medical Center [PDF] Miralax Preparation for Colonoscopy at UNC Medical Center [PDF]
Preparación estándar para una colonoscopia en UNC Medical Center [PDF] Preparación Miralax para una colonoscopia en UNC Medical Center [PDF]