The best way to prevent bowel cancer is to have a screening colonoscopy.  A colonoscopy allows your doctor to look at the colon and to remove any polyps that might turn into cancer. Colonoscopies can prevent cancer or stop it from developing.

What Is a Colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a screening test that lets your doctor see the inner lining of the large intestine (colon). The screening is not painful and can take less than an hour to do. A colonoscopy is useful, because it helps your doctor diagnose a range of colon problems that include:

  • Tumors
  • Polyps (growth that can turn into cancer)
  • Ulcers
  • Inflammation
  • Bleeding

When Should I Have a Colonoscopy?

Colonoscopies can prevent cancer or stop it from developing. Colonoscopies can prevent cancer or stop it from developing. Colonoscopy is the recommended screening test for people at high risk. Regular screenings are recommended for men and women starting at age 50. But some people may need to get their screenings earlier. They include:

  • African Americans
  • People who have a close relative with cancer
  • Patients with IBD, or inflammatory bowel disease
  • People with certain genetic syndromes

Talk to your provider about the best time to schedule a colonoscopy. You can find a MaineHealth organization that offers colonoscopy screenings.

Lower Your Risk of Colon Cancer

Certain lifestyle choices can increase your risk of getting colon cancer. They include:

  • Eating lots of red meat (beef, pork, lamb), processed meats (deli foods) and fatty foods
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol use (eight or more drinks per week for women; 15 or more drinks weekly for men)
  • Not getting enough exercise or physical activity

Talk to your provider about getting help to quit or change activities that are affecting your health and putting you at a higher risk for cancer.

Preparing for Your Colonoscopy

Getting ready for a colonoscopy

Before the test, you will be expected to prep your colon. The prep enables your doctor to have a clear view of your colon. Your doctor will give you instructions. The test can involve having a clear liquid diet, and having laxatives or enemas. Make sure you go over the instructions and understand them.

Having a Colonoscopy

Your doctor will view the colon

With a colonoscopy, a very thin tube with a tiny camera is used to view the colon. The test takes about a half-hour. If a polyp is found, your doctor likely will remove it. Your doctor also may take a biopsy of tissue that will be sent to a lab to be checked for cancerous or pre-cancerous cells.

People usually are given medicine to make them relaxed or sleepy during the procedure. Colonoscopies are not painful.

Sigmoidoscopy screening

What is a sigmoidoscopy?

A similar screening test is called the sigmoidoscopy. With a sigmoidoscopy, your doctor is able to see only a part of the colon and the entire rectum. The doctor will look for polyps and signs of cancer. Follow your doctor’s instructions to prep for the test.

The exam takes 10-20 minutes. It may not require sedation.

Want more information on colonoscopies? You can find colonoscopy information in the HealthWise Library.