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A colonoscopy is a colon cancer screening procedure that allows your doctor to examine the lining of your large intestine, or colon. It’s a way to check for colon polyps, ulcers, tumors and other early signs of colon cancer or colorectal cancer.

Colonoscopies are essential because they can help your doctor find and treat colorectal cancers in their earliest stages. The earlier colon cancer is found, the better the prognosis. That makes a colonoscopy one of the most effective ways to test for colon cancer and protect your health and life.

During a colonoscopy:

  • You’ll be given medicine to help you relax and go to sleep.
  • Your doctor will examine the inside of your colon with a camera attached to a small, flexible tube.
  • If they find growths in the intestine (polyps), your doctor may remove them on the spot. Removing polyps can help prevent cancer from forming.
  • If your doctor notices an abnormal-looking area during the colonoscopy, they can also take a biopsy during the procedure.

Beginning at age 50, colonoscopies are recommended as a screening for colorectal cancer. A colonoscopy may also be recommended for abdominal pain, chronic constipation, chronic diarrhea and rectal bleeding.

Talk to your primary care doctor about scheduling your colonoscopy today.

What to Expect

Before Colonoscopy

Colonoscopy prep requires you to empty your colon completely. Starting 12 to 24 hours before your exam, you may be required to avoid solid foods and colored liquids. Your doctor may also ask you to fast completely the night before your exam.

In preparation for your colonoscopy, you may need to take a laxative, perform an at-home enema or make adjustments to any medications you’re taking.

Since everyone is different, be sure to ask your doctor how to best prepare for your colonoscopy.

During Colonoscopy

On the day of your colonoscopy appointment, you’ll be given sedation medication through an IV so you feel relaxed and fall asleep while your doctor examines your large intestine (colon). This medication will be delivered through a needle in your arm (IV).

During the colonoscopy:

  • You’ll lie on your side on an examining table with your knees bent.
  • Your doctor will insert a narrow scope (colonoscope) with a tiny camera on the end through your anus to examine your rectum and your large intestine.
  • Your doctor will look for irregularities, such as colon polyps – fleshy growths in your colon’s lining that can lead to cancer.
  • If any polyps are found, they can be removed via a colonic polypectomy using tools inserted through the tube.
  • Your doctor can also collect tissue samples during the procedure. Any abnormal tissue can be biopsied to test for colorectal cancer.

During a virtual colonoscopy (CT colonography), your doctor will perform CT scans to produce pictures of your colon. You’ll lie on your back and your stomach so your doctor can get images from different angles. These scans are then reviewed to check for colon polyps and other abnormalities.

Both a colonoscopy and a virtual colonoscopy each take about 30 minutes to complete. Recovery time is usually about an hour.

After Colonoscopy

After a colonoscopy, it can take up to an hour for the sedative to begin to wear off, and up to a day for the effects of the sedative to disappear completely. You’ll spend the initial recovery time in a recovery room at the clinic or hospital.

When you wake up, your doctor will give you instructions for what to do when you get home. You may have some mild cramping or pass some air.

Because of the sedative, you won’t be able to drive or work after the colonoscopy, and will need to arrange for a ride home. You should be able to return to normal activity the following day.

Colonoscopy results can be:

  • Negative: This means there were no abnormalities detected, and you don’t need another colonoscopy for 10 years unless you have certain risk factors for colon cancer.
  • Positive: This means polyps or abnormal tissue were detected. In this case, polyps will be checked in the lab to see if they’re noncancerous (benign), precancerous or cancerous (malignant). You might need surgery if abnormal tissue or polyps were found and couldn’t be safely removed during the procedure. Depending on the findings, you might need colorectal screenings more often.

Risk Factors & Symptoms

Colon Cancer Risk Factors

If you’re 50 or older, your doctor will probably want you to have colonoscopies regularly – this is the most common colonoscopy age to begin getting screened.

If you’re younger, and any of the following colon cancer risk factors apply, your doctor may suggest you start early colonoscopy screenings:

  • You have a close relative with colon polyps or colon cancer
  • You have a genetic syndrome like familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (Lynch syndrome)
  • You suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis

Ask your doctor when you should start getting screened and how often you should have a colonoscopy.

Colon Cancer Symptoms

Colon cancer grows slowly and doesn’t always cause symptoms in the early stages. But as it progresses, it can cause:

  • Abdominal cramps or frequent gas pains
  • A feeling that your bowel won’t empty completely
  • Bloating
  • Blood in your stool (often bright or very dark) or rectal bleeding
  • Changes in bowel habits such as diarrhea or constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

If you notice any of these warning signs, call your colonoscopy doctor (gastroenterologist) or ask your primary care doctor for a referral.


How Much Will it Cost?

When a colonoscopy is performed, it’s categorized as either a “screening” or “diagnostic” colonoscopy. Your current symptoms, family history and personal health history will determine how your doctor categorizes your colonoscopy.

Both screening and diagnostic colonoscopies are classified using national guidelines. These guidelines are used by insurance companies to determine the amount of colonoscopy costs they will cover and what your out-of-pocket expenses will be.

Whether your colonoscopy is for screening purposes or diagnostic purposes, biopsies and lab testing could influence the overall cost of the procedure.

If a polyp or mass is found and sent to a Pathology lab for evaluation, the overall cost of the colonoscopy will be more expensive than if no mass is found. Mass removal and testing can occur during both screening and diagnostic colonoscopies.

Cost of Screening Colonoscopies

Screening colonoscopies are preventive in nature and are used to check for signs of cancer. Most insurance companies will cover the cost of screening colonoscopies beginning at age 50 and then every 10 years thereafter.

If you have a family history of colon cancer, your doctor may order a screening colonoscopy before age 50.

If screening colonoscopies are covered by your insurance plan, there is usually little (if any) out-of-pocket cost to you.

Cost of Diagnostic Colonoscopies

There are 2 reasons a colonoscopy could be considered “diagnostic” in nature:

  • It’s needed more frequently than once every 10 years
  • It’s needed because you’re having GI-related symptoms or problems

Many insurance plans cover diagnostic colonoscopies, however the procedure is not considered “preventive.” Because of this, you may be responsible for a co-payment, and may incur out-of-pocket expenses that count toward your deductible.

In some cases, your colonoscopy could be categorized as diagnostic by the hospital and as a screening by your doctor’s office. This is due to national coding guidelines, which cannot be changed. If your colonoscopy is performed in a doctor’s office, it will be categorized as either screening or diagnostic, not both.

Get a Cost Estimate

If you’re in need of a colonoscopy, we can provide a cost estimate for the procedure based on your insurance plan and your medical history. To receive a cost estimate, please call 800-326-2250.


For more information on colonoscopies and preventing colorectal cancer, visit:


Aurora Health Care operates colorectal cancer screening centers in Milwaukee, Sheboygan, Green Bay, and throughout eastern Wisconsin.

You can make a colonoscopy appointment at a clinic near you by getting a referral from your primary care doctor:

Find a doctor or schedule an appointment through LiveWell.

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