A colonoscopy is a procedure where a thin, flexible tube called an endoscope is used to look inside the rectum and colon (large intestine). It is often possible to also inspect the very end of the small intestine (Terminal Ileum) The endoscope has a light and a high definition video camera at the tip to allow inspection of the inner lining of the lower GI tract.
Colonoscopy is the most powerful tool for the prevention and diagnosis of bowel cancer. Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in Australia. It is used to help identify the cause of the passage of blood, abdominal pain, change in bowel habit and diarrhoea as well as assessment of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohns and Ulcerative Colitis). It is possible to remove tissue samples (biopsies) for analysis and remove pre-cancerous bowel polyps.
A colonoscopy generally takes between 20-40 minutes. It is usually performed under sedation administer by a specialist anaesthetist. You should be unaware of the procedure and experience no discomfort or pain. The aim is to examine the entire colon but rarely this is not possible.
Prior to the procedure, you will need to take a preparation to empty the bowel to allow visualisation of the lining of the bowel.
A colonoscopy is a very safe procedure, but like all medical procedures it does carry a risk of complications. Possible complications that can occur include:
- a reaction to the sedative, which can cause problems with your breathing, heart rate and blood pressure
- internal bleeding, usually controllable through the colonoscope at the time of the procedure but rarely after you have gone home
- tearing (perforation) of the lining of your colon