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What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a procedure that allows your specialist to look directly at the inside lining of the bowel by using a fine flexible telescope called an endoscope. The endoscope is passed through the anus into the rectum and along the length of the large bowel. 

Why have a colonoscopy?

As a screening test for people with a higher than normal risk of developing bowel (colorectal) cancer. It can also detect abnormalities in the bowel of people who have symptoms or signs of bowel disease, such as bleeding, pain or a recent change in bowel habits. 

Who is at a higher risk than normal of developing bowel cancer?

- Those people who have had a first degree relative (parent, brother, sister or child) with bowel cancer. If more than two close relatives have had bowel cancer the risk is even greater.
- Those people who have previously had bowel cancer. 
- Those people who have family members who have a history of familial polyposis, an inherited disease in which the polyps (mushroom like growths) develop along the lining of the bowel. 
- Those people who have had intensive ulcerative colitis for more than 10 years. 

In this situation, how often should a colonoscopy be done?

Your specialist will be the best one to advise you on this, but if your first colonoscopy was completely successful, a repeat colonoscopy every three to four years is suggested. If an abnormality is present, a colonoscopy may be advised more frequently. 

What is the risk of developing bowel cancer if I'm not in this high risk group?

Cancer of the large bowel is the most common internal cancer in Australia. It affects about 1 in 24 Australians and the risk increases after the age of 40. It is thought that bowel cancer takes some years to develop on the inside bowel wall. 

Should people with a normal risk of developing bowel have a screening colonoscopy?

Although a colonoscopy is not necessary if you have none of the above risks and no symptoms of bowel disease, a simply screening test called a faecal occult blood test can be done. This is recommended for people over the age of 40 who have no symptoms of bowel disease. Your doctor will be able to advise you of this. 

If a first degree, relative suffered with bowel cancer, when should screening commence? 

Screening should generally start at the age of 40 years or ten years earlier than your relative who developed bowel cancer. 

Is a colonoscopy painful? 

Although you will not be under a general anaesthetic, you will be given a strong anesthetic sedative and you are unlikely to remember much about the colonoscopy after it is over. If any polyps are found during the colonoscopy, they can be removed at the same time. A biopsy, which is a simple sample of the tissue lining of the bowel, may also be taken. 

Are there any complications?

Complications are rare. Accidental tearing through the wall of the bowel or bleeding, especially if a polyp is removed at the time of the colonoscopy, are all slight risks. However, they occur in less than 0.1% of cases. If haemorrhoids are also treated, it is usual to have some bleeding. 

Are there any special preparations before a colonoscopy?

It is essential to make an appointment for a colonoscopy and call Albury Day Surgery to receive instructions first. As it is very important that the bowel is completely empty for a colonoscopy, you will need to be advised about what you can eat and drink before the test. You will also receive instructions about a special preparation you must drink to help empty the bowel. 

What happens after the test? 

There may be some discomfort in the abdomen after the test. It normally doesn't last too long. If you have had a biopsy, haemorrhoids treated or polyps removed, there may be a small amount of blood passed in the toilet. You are allowed to eat as normal after the test, unless your doctor advises you otherwise. If the bleeding or discomfort is either severe or lasts over several hours you should contact the doctor who performed the test, your own doctor or the nearest hospital. 

What about the results? 

The results of your colonoscopy will be sent to your referring doctor.