What You Need to Know Before Your First Colonoscopy
If the idea of getting a colonoscopy sounds intimidating to you, you’re not alone. While this procedure seems uncomfortable, most patients don’t feel any pain. Additionally, this procedure can catch precancerous growths or signs of cancer before symptoms appear, meaning treatment can be more effective, and you can get back to doing what you love.
Why Get a Colonoscopy?
Colorectal cancer, one of the most common cancers in the U.S., is the second leading cause of cancer deaths. Symptoms typically don’t appear until the disease has progressed, making routine screening an important part of early detection. A colonoscopy doesn’t just detect signs of colorectal cancer — it can remove precancerous growths before they even have the chance to develop.
"Getting screened regularly is one of the most effective ways to prevent colon cancer," says Dr. Waqar Qureshi, gastroenterologist at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center and Clinical Director of Gastroenterology at Baylor College of Medicine.
What Happens During a Colonoscopy?
To start the procedure, your gastroenterologist will sedate you. They then take a colonoscope, a thin tube with a camera attached, and insert it through the anus and into the rectum and colon. Your doctor will see video footage in real time from the camera and can look for inflammation, polyps, bleeding, and signs of cancer. If your gastroenterologist finds polyps, they can remove them during the same procedure. They may use a wire loop or an electric current to clear it from the lining.
How Do You Prepare for a Colonoscopy?
In order for your doctor to have the best view of the lining of your colon and rectum, these organs need to be clear of fecal matter. About three or four days before your procedure, you should adopt a low-fiber diet, eating foods like eggs, fish, pasta, cooked veggies without their skins, and peeled fruits. Avoid foods high in fat or fiber, such as legumes, seeds, and nuts.
On the day before your procedure, switch to a liquid diet. Opt for beverages like clear broths and juices as well as tea or black coffee without creamer or milk. Avoid red liquids, which can be confused with blood during the procedure.
Your doctor might recommend taking a laxative or using an enema kit to help empty your colon. They also might adjust your medication and supplement consumption, so make sure they’re aware of everything you take on a regular basis.
When You Should Start Getting Colonoscopies
Most people with an average risk of colorectal cancer should begin screening at age 50 and get a colonoscopy every 10 years. However, Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center and Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center surgical oncologist Dr. Eugene Choi recommends that people with a family history of colorectal cancer get their first colonoscopy around 10 years before the age at which their family member received their diagnosis. People with a family history might also need to get colonoscopies more frequently than every 10 years.
Nationally ranked Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center provides the highest possible level of cancer care as the clinical home for the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center (DLDCCC) at Baylor College of Medicine, one of only three NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in Texas. The DLDCCC recently expanded to the North Houston community at The Woodlands Hospital, offering access to advanced services close to home.