Colonoscopy - Preventive Screening

This is an examination of the large intestine (colon) using a thin, lighted tube with a camera on the end.

This is an examination of the large intestine (colon) using a thin, lighted tube with a camera on the end.

A colonoscopy is an exam of the large intestine (colon) using a thin, lighted tube with a camera on the end.

  • A colonoscopy screening is done to find precancerous polyps (abnormal tissue or growths that are attached to the lining of the colon) and colon cancer in its earliest possible stages.
  • Having a colonoscopy screening can reduce your risk of dying from colon cancer.
  • Most people should have their first colonoscopy screening beginning at age 50, but for some at higher risk, screening is started earlier. Discuss with your healthcare provider when screening should begin for you.

This care path is for a screening colonoscopy that meets the requirements of a “preventive” exam. Benefit plans typically provide coverage for a screening colonoscopy if you are age 50 or older. Please review your coverage documents and/or call the number on your health plan ID card for more information.

Most colonoscopies are done to screen for colon cancer or for polyps that may become cancerous. A biopsy may be needed if an abnormality is found during a screening colonoscopy. Since any colonoscopy might lead to a biopsy, which is a minor surgical procedure, prior to the procedure you should tell your doctor about any medications you are taking (including over-the-counter medications and supplements). Some medicines can interfere with the colonoscopy preparation or the examination.

The day before the colonoscopy, you will be instructed to drink only clear liquids and take medicine to clean out your bowels. Just before the test, you may be given a medicine that makes you relaxed and sleepy (a sedative) or one that puts you to sleep (anesthesia). Sometimes your doctor will give you a choice of a sedative or an anesthetic. You should ask about the advantages or disadvantages of both. You should also ask about other specific instructions you should follow before the procedure. These include:

  • Medications you should not take before the procedure, such as blood thinners or aspirin
  • Regular medications you should continue to take on the day of your procedure
  • How many hours you should stop eating and drinking before the procedure

Don't forget to make arrangements for transportation to and from the facility and for help at home. Even if you are awake, you will not be allowed to drive home after your colonoscopy.

What should I ask my healthcare provider before having a colonoscopy?

  • What is the reason for the test? What other screening options are there for colon cancer? (Once you have a polyp identified and removed, future colon cancer surveillance will be by colonoscopy.)
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of colonoscopy over other screening tests for colorectal cancer?
  • What kind of sedation or anesthesia will I have? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each type? What are the possible side effects?
  • What are the possible complications? How will I feel after the test? How will I have to change my activity after the test?
  • When should I return for my next colonoscopy? (People who have polyps will need to be checked more frequently.)

Note: Under the Affordable Care Act, preventive services like a screening colonoscopy are not subject to deductibles or copayments when your health plan is a “non-grandfathered” plan and your colonoscopy is done by a network physician. However, a diagnostic colonoscopy to check on previously identified polyps is not a preventive service and is subject to deductibles and copayments.


Also known as:

Screening Colonoscopy
Preventive Screening
Preventive Exam
Preventative Exam
Colorectal Cancer Screening
Colonoscopy - Preventive Screening
Colon Scan
Colon Cancer
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