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Yes, You Need a Colonoscopy

Routine screening is essential to beat colon cancer

By Elizabeth Hanes

Preparing for a colonoscopy generally involves drinking as much as a gallon of a liquid solution that helps to clean out the colon the day before the exam. “We’re trying to see the walls of the colon," says Dr. Reena Chokshi, a gastroenterology fellow at Washington University in St. Louis, "and in order to see them very well, you have to have a deluge of liquid material to clean those walls off.”

Many first-time colonoscopy patients are as wary of the preparation as they are of the test itself. But if you don’t complete your prep adequately, you may have to repeat the screening, and no one wants that. Besides, your fears may be exaggerated. “Many of my patients tell me the prep was no big deal,” Chokshi says. But doing it correctly is crucial. "Our recent research showed poor preparation can hinder our ability to see polyps during the exam," she says.

Different doctors use different prep solutions. Some are flavored, but the commonly prescribed Go-Lytely solution is not. Some people find its taste unpleasant, but "patients have told me chilling the solution helps," Chokshi says, adding that you can ask your gastroenterologist if you can “doctor” the drink. If so, she says, you may be able to "add something like Crystal Light to it as long as it’s not red or purple, which can tint the walls of the colon and make it difficult for us to see any blood during the exam."


Colonoscopy and the FIT test offer a high degree of reliability and cost effectiveness. The same can’t necessarily be said for other screening measures. A virtual colonoscopy (performed by CT scan) is expensive and generally not reimbursed by insurance, since large-scale studies have yet to confirm their reliability in detecting polyps, and colonoscopy-in-a-pill technology continues to advance but is a long way from being ready. "There are lots of new technological developments coming in the future," Winawer says, "but for you the future is now."

Learn more about colonoscopies from our partners at Medline Plus.


Elizabeth Hanes is a registered nurse who writes regularly about health, wellness, nutrition and caregiving. She won a 2010 Online Journalism Award for "Dad Has Dementia," her 36-week journal about caring for her late father. She lives in New Mexico where she also writes about art, antiques and collecting. Read More
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