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Colonoscopy is a medical procedure during which a long, flexible, tubular instrument called the colonoscope is used to view the entire inner lining of the colon (large intestine) and the rectum.
A colonoscopy is generally recommended when the patient complains of rectal bleeding or has a change in bowel habits or other unexplained abdominal symptoms. The test is frequently used to test for colorectal cancer, especially when polyps or tumor-like growths have been detected using the barium enema and other diagnostic tests. Polyps can be removed through the colonoscope and samples of tissue (biopsies) can be taken to test for the presence of cancerous cells.
The test also enables the physician to check for bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. It is a necessary tool in monitoring patients who have a past history of polyps or colon cancer. It may also be used as a screening tool for people at high risk of developing colon cancer, such as those with a strong family history of the disease.
Patients who are pregnant or have a history of heart and lung disease and those with blood-clotting problems should tell the doctor about their health history before the procedure. Special precautions may be needed. For instance, a patient with artificial heart valves or a history of infection of the lining of the heart may need to take antibiotics to prevent infection. Patients also should tell the doctor about all medications they are taking. The doctor may want the patient to stop taking some drugs, such as aspirin, for a period of time before the procedure. Patients with some intestinal conditions should not have a colonoscopy. Examples of these conditions include acute diverticulitis, acute inflamatory bowel disease, a suspected perforation or break in the intestines, and recent abdominal surgery. Patients must be able to cooperate during the procedure.
Author Info: Lata Cherath Ph.D., The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Cancer, 2002
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