The inside of the rectum and entire colon are examined using a long, lighted tube called a colonoscope.
Finds and removes pre-cancerous growths before they become cancer
Must completely empty the bowel
Small risk from the procedure and medication
The most expensive screening choice on a one-time basis
- 27 Insider Tips & Tricks for Prep
- Sample 6-Day Prep Guide
- Questions to Ask Your Doc Before Your Colonoscopy
- Most complete screening method available, identifies and removes polyps in one session
- Sedation is given to patient to minimize discomfort
- Examines full colon
- Depending on results, may only need to be re-screened every 10 years
- Requires one day of clear liquids and laxative preparation
- Small risk of perforation or bleeding
- Will need to set aside a day for procedure and have a ride home in order to leave the medical facility
What can I expect for a bill?
Average cost before insurance: $800 – $1600
Will my insurance cover it?
Under the Patient Prevention and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), all insurers are required to cover preventive screening tests, like colonoscopies. However, you may still owe a copay or deductible.
You’ll often hear colonoscopies referred to as the “Gold Standard” of screening. This is because they can both find cancer and remove potentially precancerous growths called polyps. Since most cases of colon cancer start as polyps, colonoscopies essentially allow you to stop colon cancer before it even starts!
We’re not going to lie – colonoscopy prep is generally considered the most difficult part of the procedure. The good news? Once you’re done with the prep, the rest is easy!
To get ready for a colonoscopy, full bowel prep is required. Your doctor will give you specific directions on how to prepare, but generally, all solids must be emptied from the stomach and bowel by following a clear liquid diet for 1-3 days before the procedure. You should not drink beverages containing red or purple dye. A few examples of what you can drink:
- Fat-free bouillon or broth
- Strained fruit juice
- Plain coffee or tea
- Sports drinks, such as Gatorade
A laxative may also be required the night before a colonoscopy as to loosen stool and get your bowels moving.
You won’t be permitted to drive immediately following the procedure, so be sure to arrange a ride home beforehand.
During a colonoscopy, you will lie on your left side on an examination table. In most cases, your doctor will give you a light sedative, and possibly pain medication, to help you stay relaxed.
The doctor will then insert a long, flexible, lighted tube called a colonoscope, or scope, into the anus and slowly guide it through the rectum and into the colon. The scope inflates the large intestine with carbon dioxide gas to give the doctor a better view. A small camera mounted on the scope transmits a video image from inside the large intestine to a computer screen, allowing the doctor to carefully examine the intestinal lining.
Once the scope has reached the opening to the small intestine, it is slowly withdrawn and the lining of the large intestine is carefully examined again.
Removal of Polyps and Biopsy
A doctor can remove growths, called polyps, during colonoscopy and then send them to a lab to test for signs of cancer. Polyps are common in adults and most are usually harmless. However, most cases of colon cancer begin as polyps, so removing them early is an effective way to prevent cancer.
The doctor can also take samples from abnormal-looking tissues during colonoscopy. The procedure, called a biopsy, allows him or her to later look at the tissue with a microscope for signs of disease.
Does it hurt?
A colonoscopy can take anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes, usually averaging 20 to 30 minutes, depending on what is discovered. When performed by an experienced health care practitioner, the procedure is painless.
To relieve anxiety or pain, some form of anesthesia or sedation is provided. A sedative together with pain medication enables people to better tolerate the procedure, and the drugs induce relaxation and drowsiness.
The Big 'What if…'
Any biopsies taken from your colon during the colonoscopy will be sent to a lab for testing. You should hear results within a week of your procedure; at this point, discuss a follow-up plan with your gastroenterologist and primary care doctor.
I’ve been diagnosed with colon cancer. What now?
We’re here for you, and we are on your team. If you or a loved one has been newly diagnosed with colon cancer, we encourage you to call our Toll-free Helpline at (877) 422-2030.
Everyone deals with a cancer diagnosis differently, and our Patient Support team is trained to provide you with information and support during this confusing and overwhelming time.
After the Test
Patients may experience cramping or bloating in the hour following the procedure. The sedative takes time to completely wear off, so patients may need to remain at the clinic for 1-2 hours, or until this happens. The upside: full recovery is expected by the next day.
Side effects of colonoscopies are rare, but patients should contact their doctor if they experience:
- Severe abdominal pain
- Bloody bowel movements
Rarely, a patient may experience tearing or perforation of the lining of the intestine. If this happens, surgery may be needed to repair the injury. Another risk is bleeding, usually at the site of a biopsy or polyp removal. Most cases of bleeding stop without treatment or can be controlled at the time of procedure.
How often (if not high risk)
Every 10 years starting at age 50.
What are the signs that I may need a colonoscopy?
If you have a family history of colon cancer, are experiencing symptoms, are considered high risk, or are simply turning 50, you and your doctor should decide if a colonoscopy is the right screening test for you. Signs that you may need a colonoscopy include:
- Blood in or on your stool
- Frequent and unattributed pain, aches or cramps in your stomach
- A change in bowel habits, like having stools that are narrower than usual
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Unexplained weight loss
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor immediately.