Colonoscopy 101

Follow pediatrician Dr. Jim Sears and ER physician Dr. Travis Stork as they face their fears and each undergo a colonoscopy. While it is recommended that everyone undergo a colonoscopy by age 50, with their family histories of colon cancer, both Dr. Sears and Dr. Travis decide to be proactive and take an early trip to gastroenterologist Dr. Jorge Rodriguez’s office.

Approximately 50,000 people die every year from colon cancer, and an estimated 60 percent of those deaths could be prevented with proper screening. “If you're 50 or over and you haven't had this done, it's time to get it done,” Dr. Travis says.

What is a Colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is a procedure that enables an examiner, usually a gastroenterologist, to evaluate the inside of the colon using a four-foot long colonoscope — a flexible tube about the thickness of a finger with a camera and a source of light at its tip. The colonoscope is inserted into the anus and then is advanced slowly, under visual control, into the rectum and through the colon. The procedure typically takes about 20 minutes to an hour and can be performed with the patient under anesthesia or not.

Why is a Colonoscopy Done?
While the procedure is most often done to investigate the cause of blood in the stool, abdominal pain, diarrhea, a change in bowel habit or an abnormality found on an X-ray or CT scan, colonoscopies are also performed on individuals with a previous history of polyps or colon cancer, and on certain individuals with a family history of cancer or colonic problems. It has been recommended that even healthy people who have no pre-existing conditions or family history of colon cancer undergo a colonoscopy at age 50, and every 10 years thereafter. And, if any polyps are found, they should be removed immediately, before they become cancerous.

Preparing for a Colonoscopy
For the procedure to be accurate, the colon must be completely cleaned. In general, this is achieved by drinking a large volume of a special cleaning solution, called polyethylene glycol, prior to the examination. In some cases, it may be necessary to use an over-the-counter enema kit, either the night before the exam or a few hours before the exam, to empty the colon. Instructions may also be given to avoid certain foods for a couple of days prior to the procedure, such as stringy foods or foods with seeds. It is also important to inform your physician of all current prescriptions or over-the-counter medications you are taking, as well as any allergies or major illnesses you may have.

Watch as Dr. Sears and Dr. Travis prepare for their procedures.

The Docs undergo their colonoscopies. Who has the cleanest bowels?

Dr. Rodriguez find a polyp in Dr. Sears' colon, removes it and sends it for testing, to ascertain whether it is precancerous or not. Watch as Dr. Rodriguez reveals Dr. Sears' biopsy results onstage.

"I would much rather lay on that gurney, a little bit scared of a procedure that is a preventative procedure, rather than a procedure that is being done because maybe I waited too long," Dr. Travis says.

Colon cancer risk factors
The importance of routine colonoscopies
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