Understanding the diagnostic and preventive procedure

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, an important time to raise awareness and support the fight against colon and rectal cancers. Also known as colon cancer, colorectal cancer, is the third most common cause of cancer-related death in both men and women in the United States. Screening is crucial for the prevention and early detection of colorectal cancer, as this cancer may not present symptoms early on. Colonoscopies are the most common type of colorectal cancer screening, and allow the colon to be examined for inflammation, abnormalities, like polyps, and other signs of colorectal cancer. 

A colonoscopy examines the inner lining of the colon and rectum using a flexible tube with a camera attached, known as a colonoscope, and is typically administered to look for cancer in people who don’t have symptoms. If any polyps or abnormalities are found, they may be removed or biopsied during the procedure. The procedure usually takes about 30 to 60 minutes.

Here are essential steps to prepare for a colonoscopy:

Consult with Your Primary Care Provider or Gastroenterologist

If this is your first colonoscopy screening, it’s common that your primary care provider will refer you to a gastroenterologist. Before the procedure, schedule a consultation with your gastroenterologist to discuss your medical history, any current medications, any family history of colorectal cancer, and potential risks associated with the colonoscopy.

Start a Colon Cleanse 

It’s essential to completely empty your colon before your colonoscopy. Start eating easily digestible low-fiber foods 3-4 days before your procedure. Avoid eating anything solid and drinking alcohol the day before your colonoscopy, and only consume clear liquids. 


It’s recommended to stop eating or drinking anything by midnight on the day before your appointment. 

Take Bowel Preparation Medication

Part of your preparation will include taking strong laxatives the night before your colonoscopy to clear out your system. These will either be prescribed by your doctor or an over-the-counter alternative. 

Stay Hydrated

In the days leading up to your colonoscopy, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and electrolytes if needed. You can also drink healthy, clear liquids, such as broth and clear juices, to help prevent dehydration. Certain fruits and vegetables are also a good source of hydration. 

Plan for Transportation:

During your colonoscopy appointment, you will receive light sedation before you undergo the colonoscopy, so you won’t be able to drive after. Arrange for someone to provide transportation for you after your procedure. 

The thought of prepping for and undergoing a colonoscopy might not be the most fun thing to look forward to, but it’s an imperative part of early detection. Proper preparation is key. Understanding how to get ready for a colonoscopy will help alleviate any pre-procedure stress and help you feel prepared for the process, which involves cleansing the colon to ensure a clear view during the procedure. 

Whether it’s your first colonoscopy or you’ve had one before, consult with your healthcare provider about when you should schedule your colonoscopy screening. It’s recommended that people start getting screened at age 45. A normal colonoscopy means you can wait another 5-10 years to schedule your next colonoscopy, depending on what your doctor recommends.


NIH: National Cancer Institute: Colorectal Cancer Prevention (PDQ®)–Patient Version

American Cancer Society: Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests

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