ZocdocAnswersWhat is a colonoscopy?

Question

What is a colonoscopy?

I'm a man in my late 30s, and this question is pretty embarrassing ? but is it really necessary to get a routine colonoscopy? I keep hearing that a man of my age should, but I'm terrified of that procedure. How can I get around this?

Answer

First, let me describe what exactly a colonoscopy and then I’ll describe who should undergo the procedure. A colonoscopy is a procedure that allows physicians to evaluate the large intestine, which includes the colon and the rectum. Prior to the procedure a patient has to undergo a colon prep which involves certain dietary restrictions and the consumption of a laxative that cleanses the colon of stool to improve visualization of the intestinal lining. During the procedure a patient will lie on his or her side or back and a thin, flexible tube with a camera on it is inserted into the anus and advanced through the rectum and into the colon. No anesthesia is required, but doctors will sometimes provide a light sedative to help make the patient more comfortable. The tube and camera are then advanced while the doctors evaluate any concerning growths, lesions, or ulcers. Occasionally, doctors will take small biopsies or even remove growths called polyps. The procedure can last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Colonoscopies are used both to screen healthy adults for colon cancer and to evaluate a number of medical conditions such as anemia or inflammatory bowel disease. For healthy adults the recommendation is that patients start undergoing colonoscopy at 50 years of age, unless there is a strong family history or other concerning risk factors. Another option is using 3 high-sensitivity fecal occult blood tests every year, which involves placing a small amount of stool on a card and sending them to your doctor’s office or a laboratory for analysis. However, healthy patients in their 30s generally do not require a colonoscopy or colon cancer screening. You should talk with your primary care physician to further discuss the risks and benefits of the different options.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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