How a colonoscopy can save lives

By Edward Seward, Consultant Gastroenterologist at The Wellington Hospital

A colonoscopy is a medical procedure to examine the inside of the colon and rectum for signs of cancer or other abnormalities. While the thought of undergoing a colonoscopy can be intimidating, it’s an important, and life-saving, screening test.

Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers in the Western world and, if not caught early, it can be deadly. However, with early detection through tests like colonoscopy, many cases of colorectal cancer can be either prevented or successfully treated.

Colonoscopy drawing Colonoscopy drawing

An inside view

During a colonoscopy, a long, flexible tube with a camera on the end is inserted into the rectum and guided through the colon. The camera allows the doctor to check the lining of the colon and rectum for any abnormalities, such as polyps or tumours. If they find any abnormalities, they can either remove them or take a biopsy for further testing.

One of the main benefits of a colonoscopy is that it can help to detect colorectal cancer in its early stages, when it is most treatable. In fact, studies clearly show that people who undergo regular colonoscopies are less likely to die from colorectal cancer than those who do not get screened.

Catch cancer before it starts

A colonoscopy can even help to prevent colorectal cancer from developing in the first place. This is because polyps, which are small growths on the lining of the colon, can, over time, develop into cancer. During a colonoscopy, most polyps that are found can be removed before they have a chance to become cancerous.

Polypectomies are often simple procedures and can be done during the colonoscopy. To remove bigger polyps, and those that may already exhibit feature signs of becoming cancerous, you’ll most likely need a more sophisticated procedure, such as the more superficial endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR) or a deeper submucosal dissection (ESD).

Get screened

Screening recommendations vary from country to country. In the NHS, regular screening starts with a stool test that detects hidden blood at the age of 55. Those that test positive usually undergo a colonoscopy. In the US meanwhile, colonoscopy screening is recommended from as early as 50.

Some people, for example those with a strong family history of bowel cancer, are recommended to start screening earlier. The frequency of screening will depend on the individual's risk factors and the results of previous screenings.

Overcoming the fear

The thought of a colonoscopy is daunting to many people. The procedure is often thought of as being a painful or very uncomfortable experience, but most people are surprised how easy it is.

It does require some bowel preparation, which includes the complete emptying of the intestines (with the help of medication), usually the day before the procedure. However, the procedure itself is often completely pain-free, and should someone experience discomfort, painkillers and sedatives are available to help make the procedure as comfortable as possible. Overall, it’s a small price to pay to save a life!

Book an appointment

To book a consultation with The Colorectal & Robotic Surgery Centre, you can phone, email or use our “contact us” form.


Call:  +44 20 3214 3440
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