While colorectal cancer is still a leading cause of cancer deaths nationally, the rate of deaths has been dropping in recent decades thanks to successful screening. Colorectal cancer screenings — colonoscopies — unequivocally save lives.

Colorectal polyps found in screenings are removed before they develop into cancerous growths, and screenings result in cancers being found earlier when they are most treatable.

Endeavor Health Elmhurst Hospital gastroenterology specialists Allison Rzepczynski, MD, and Jason Kramer, MD, answer the most commonly asked questions about colonoscopy and encourage people to keep up with recommended, lifesaving screenings.

  1. Why do I need a colonoscopy, I feel fine?
    Screenings are critical to preventing cancer. It’s important to find and remove any polyps before they begin to cause problems and become cancerous. One in three people will have precancerous polyps removed during their colonoscopy. Colorectal cancer is preventable, thanks to this effective screening.
  2. Do I need to have a colonoscopy sooner if I have a family history of the disease?
    Yes, absolutely. The American Cancer Society recommends that people at average risk of colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45, but those with a family history screening should start earlier, before the age your relative was diagnosed with cancer. For example. If you have a sibling who was diagnosed with colorectal cancer at age 40, you should begin screening at age 30.
  3. Can I do a stool test instead of a colonoscopy?
    While there are plusses and minuses to both tests, the gold standard cancer screening is still a colonoscopy. Talk to your physician about what’s best for you.
  4. Will the procedure be uncomfortable or painful?
    No, nearly everyone who has a colonoscopy does so under sedation and will be asleep for the procedure. Some people may experience minimal bloating or mild gassy discomfort after the procedure.
  5. What about the pre-test preparation, why do I have to drink so much solution?
    Bowel prep is necessary to completely empty and clean the colon so it is visible during the screening test. There are some newer options available now including pills that can be a good bowl prep option for the right candidates. For people with chronic kidney disease or underlying constipation issues pills are not the best option. Talk to your physician about the best options for you, but don’t avoid critical screenings just because of the unpleasant preparation.
  6. How much time off do I need for a colonoscopy?
    Just one day. You do need a driver as you won’t be able to drive home after the test, but you should be able to return to work and regular activities the next day.