Don't Put off that Colonoscopy

If the thought of having a colonoscopy makes you a bit uncomfortable, you are definitely not alone.

If the thought of having a colonoscopy makes you a bit uncomfortable, you are definitely not alone. One thing many of us dread about turning 50 is going in for that first colonoscopy—as recommended in the American Cancer Society guidelines for the early detection of cancer. Admittedly, the test isn’t fun. But it just might save your life.

Colorectal cancer nearly always starts with non-cancerous (benign) growths called polyps, which would typically be identified and removed during a colonoscopy—before they turn into cancer. Given the alternative, most would agree that a colonoscopy is worth a little inconvenience. 

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer for both men and women. While the number of new cases is still high, it has dropped dramatically over the past 20 years. This is largely attributed to the fact that more people are getting colonoscopies.

Colonoscopies: What to Expect

What should you expect at your colonoscopy? First, you will receive a medication that will put you into a sleepy and relaxing “twilight” state and should keep you from feeling any discomfort during the procedure. The colonoscopy is performed with a flexible tube that has a tiny video camera at the tip. This is inserted into the rectum, allowing the doctor to see the inside of the entire colon. If polyps or other types of abnormal tissue are detected, they will be removed through the scope during the exam. Tissue samples (biopsies) can be taken as well. Because of the medication used, you probably won’t remember the procedure after it’s completed,

Some people say the most difficult part of a colonoscopy is the preparation. Methods have improved significantly over the years, but it is still necessary to completely empty the colon in order for the exam to be successful. Although instructions will vary by doctor, they typically include avoiding solid foods the day before the exam. On the evening before your colonoscopy, you will take something prescribed by your doctor to cleanse your bowels, which will likely cause diarrhea.

The best news is that if no polyps or other abnormalities are found during the colonoscopy, you generally won’t need another one for 10 years, according to the American Cancer Society. Frequency may vary with individuals, so be sure to check with your doctor.

Next Steps

If you have a personal or family history of polyps or colon cancer, or if you are African American or Native American, talk with your physician; you may need to have your first colonoscopy before you turn 50.

In addition to getting a colonoscopy, you may be able to lower your risk for colorectal cancer with regular physical activity, good nutrition and a low intake of alcohol. 

You can learn more about digestive health services available at Henry Ford Allegiance Health, read other cancer-related blog posts and find stories and videos of cancer survivors.


Have you put off getting a colonoscopy? Has this article helped alleviate your anxiety? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Early detection is key to successful cancer treatment. Your health care provider can help you identify your risks and recommend routine screenings that could save your life.