Colonoscopy and Colon Cancer Screening

When it comes to your health, your colonoscopy can’t wait. Find out what a colonoscopy is used for and what to expect before, during, and after a colonoscopy.

What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure that lets your doctor look at the lining of your large intestine (colon and rectum) for abnormalities, take a biopsy, or remove polyps (growths of tissue that are typically benign). They’re used to evaluate gastrointestinal symptoms like rectal and intestinal bleeding, abdominal pain, or changes in bowel habits.

Colonoscopies are a routine part of preventive care. They’re used to screen for colon cancer even in people who don’t have symptoms. This procedure can actually prevent cancer from developing because doctors can find and remove polyps before they become cancerous. If everyone got their recommended colonoscopy, 60% of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented.

Colonoscopies are recommended for men and women 50 and older. Black men and women should get a colonoscopy when they are 45 because they have a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. Black men and women are 20% more likely to get colorectal cancer and 40% more likely to die from it. If you have inflammatory bowel disease or a personal or family history of colorectal polyps or cancer, you also have a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer and may need to be screened sooner. 

What is a colonoscopy used for?

A colonoscopy is an effective way to diagnose and treat various symptoms and diseases:

  • Colon polyps
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Diverticulosis (bulging pouches in the digestive tract)
  • Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
  • Bleeding
  • Abdominal pain
  • Obstruction

Your colonoscopy can't wait

Early detection is the key to preventing — and beating — colorectal cancer, the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.

What to do before a colonoscopy

For this procedure to be accurate, your colon must be empty and clean. If your colonoscopy prep is not done correctly, you’ll need to reschedule your procedure.

First, you’ll take a prescription bowel cleanse to clean out your colon the day before your colonoscopy. Your doctor may recommend an advanced 2-day prep in certain situations. Make sure you follow all of the instructions provided by your doctor’s office and tell your doctor if you take any medications. Some medications might need to be changed prior to this procedure.

Find the full colonoscopy prep instructions

What happens during a colonoscopy

Your colonoscopy will most likely follow these steps:

  • Your provider will discuss the risks of the procedure before you get started.
  • You’ll change into a hospital gown and receive an IV for sedation.
  • You’ll lie on your left side with your knees pulled up to your chest.
  • Your colonoscopy will take 30 minutes up to an hour. 

While you’re sedated, your doctor will insert a colonoscope (a small, flexible instrument with a camera and light on its end) into your rectum. They’ll feed the colonoscopy through your large intestine, looking for any abnormalities. 

What happens if something abnormal is found?

If your doctor finds an area that needs further evaluation, they might biopsy (take a small sample) your colon lining so it can be analyzed. Your doctor may take a sample even if they don’t suspect cancer, because biopsies help identify other conditions as well.

Your doctor might find polyps during your colonoscopy, and they will most likely remove them during the procedure. Polyps are benign growths in the lining of your bowel that can become cancerous if they’re not removed. If polyps are found, your doctor will let you know when you need another colonoscopy. 

What to expect after a colonoscopy

You’ll be monitored until your sedation wears off. You might experience some mild cramping or bloating because of the air that entered your colon during the procedure. Your doctor will go over your results. If you received a biopsy, you may have to wait a few days for the results. Because of the sedation, someone else must drive you home.

Have more questions? We have answers

Does a colonoscopy hurt?

A colonoscopy is usually not painful. Most colonoscopies are performed with IV (intravenous) sedation or “twilight sedation,” a mild anesthesia where you’re very drowsy, but comfortable, and can still breathe on your own. This type of sedation has a mild amnesiac effect, so you won’t remember the procedure. Your doctor will discuss what type of sedation is right for you.

Is a colonoscopy safe?

All procedures have a small amount of risk and potential complications, even colonoscopies. Your doctor will discuss this with you in detail before you receive your colonoscopy.

Some risks include:

  • Infections.
  • Bleeding.
  • Perforation (creating a hole in the bowel).

Where can I get a colonoscopy at AHN?

We have many locations throughout western Pennsylvania for colonoscopies. Find a location that’s convenient for you.


Contact us

For patients whose colonoscopies were cancelled during the COVID-19 Pandemic, please view our checklist.

Our team remains available to answer your questions anytime beyond your clinic visit. For more information, call: