What is a colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is the insertion of a long flexible tube, about the thickness of a finger. It is inserted into the rectum and into the large bowel (colon) and allows the doctor to carefully examine the lining of the colon. Abnormalities suspected by x-ray can be confirmed and studied in detail. Abnormalities which are too small to be seen on x-ray may be identified.
If the doctor feels that it is necessary, he can pass an instrument through the colonoscope and take a small piece of tissue (a biopsy) for examination in the laboratory. Biopsies are taken for many reasons and do not necessarily mean that cancer is suspected.
What is a polypectomy?
During the colonoscopy, a polyp may be found. Polyps are abnormal growths of tissue which vary in size from a tiny dot to several inches. If your doctor feels that removal of the polyp is necessary, he will pass a wire loop (snare) through the scope and remove the polyp from the bowel wall by means of an electric current. You should feel no pain during removal of the polyp. Polyps are usually removed because they can cause rectal bleeding or may contain cancer. Although the majority of polyps are benign (non-cancerous), a small percentage may contain an area of cancer in them or may develop into cancer. Removal of colonic polyps, therefore, is an important means of prevention and cure of colon cancer.
Why is a colonoscopy necessary?
Colonoscopy is a valuable tool for the diagnosis and treatment of many diseases of the large bowel. Abnormalities suspected by X-ray can be confirmed and studied in detail. The cause of symptoms such as rectal bleeding or change of bowel habits may be found by colonoscopy. It is also useful for diagnosis and follow-up of patients with inflammatory bowel disease.
Colonoscopy’s greatest impact is probably in its contribution to the control of colon cancer by polyp removal. Before colonoscopy became available, major abdominal surgery was the only way to remove colonic polyps to see if they were cancerous. Most polyps can now be removed easily and safely without surgery.
Periodic colonoscopy is a valuable test for follow-up of patients with previous polyps or colon cancer, and as a screening tool for people at risk of colon cancer.
Colonoscopy is a safe and extremely worthwhile procedure which is very well-tolerated. The decision to perform this procedure was based upon assessment of your particular problem. If you have any questions about your need for colonoscopy, do not hesitate to speak to your doctor.