Colonoscopy is a safe and effective procedure used to screen for colorectal cancer as well as to evaluate for other digestive problems.

The colon is the last part of your digestive tract, also called the large intestine. It consists of a hollow tube about five to six feet long.

The purpose of the colon is to absorb water and nutrients from digested food. The digested food enters the colon from the small intestine in liquid form. As the liquid passes through the colon the water is absorbed and the liquid becomes solid. The last part of the colon is the rectum, where the solid stool is stored until it is expelled.

Colonoscopy is a medical procedure performed by a highly trained specialized physician, usually a gastroenterologist or colorectal surgeon, where a flexible tube or colonoscope is guided through the inside of the colon. The colonoscope has a camera and light on the end which allows the gastroenterologist to guide the instrument in any direction to look at the inside of the colon. The physician sees a clear, detailed image of the interior of the colon on a video monitor.

Colonoscopy is a very important tool used to check for colon cancer and colon polyps. Polyps are abnormal growths that can occur in many areas of the body including the colon. They come in many sizes and shapes, and some may turn into cancer. Because it is not possible to tell by looking at a polyp if it is the type that may turn into cancer, all polyps are removed during the colonoscopy. This can be done by passing small instruments through the colonoscope that can remove suspicious growths or small pieces of unusual tissue. This tissue then can be sent to the lab for further examination.

Other problems related to the digestive tract can also be evaluated during a colonoscopy. These include rectal bleeding, appearance of blood in the stool, abdominal pain, rectal pain, constipation, diarrhea,or anemia.

Risks or Possible Complications

Any time a tube is passed into the body there is a possibility of a complication. While colonoscopy is a very safe procedure, complications can occur. Perforation of the colon wall by the scope is very rare but would usually require surgical repair.

Other risks include reaction to the sedative medication, bleeding or hemorrhage after a polyp is removed or that an abnormality may be missed. All of these occurrences are extremely rare but be sure to discuss any concerns about the procedure or these risks with your physician.