A colonoscopy is a highly effective and relatively simple screening test for colorectal cancer. Testing is crucial because, when detected early, many cancers of the colon and rectum are treatable. Additionally, a colonoscopy can allow for the detection and removal of precancerous polyps before these abnormal growths have a chance to undergo cancerous changes.
Despite the proven benefits of colorectal cancer screening, many people actively avoid this potentially life-saving procedure simply because they feel frightened or intimidated by it. One factor that can contribute to a lot of unnecessary anxiety is a lack of understanding about what to expect and, in particular, how to prepare.
Is colonoscopy preparation difficult?
A clean colon is essential for an effective colonoscopy, and this requires some advance preparation. A common misconception is that colonoscopy prep is inconvenient, unpleasant and just plain terrible. To help dispel this myth, the multispecialty team in the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center offers the following tips on how to ease the process of preparing for a colonoscopy:
- Educate yourself – Your physician is your best source of information on how to prepare and what to expect before, during and after a colonoscopy. He or she will provide you with specific instructions, which you should read carefully, understand fully and follow to the letter. Be sure to request clarification if anything is unclear.
- Gather the necessary supplies – Your physician will also provide you with a list of supplies that you’ll need for your colonoscopy. For instance, several days before your procedure, you may need to obtain a prescription or over-the-counter laxative and stock up on low-fiber foods, sports drinks, juices, broths, extra-soft toilet tissue and moist wipes.
- Jumpstart the cleansing process – To begin clearing out your colon, you should start eating light three to four days before your colonoscopy. Choose low-fiber foods, such as white pasta, skinless fruits, well-cooked vegetables, eggs, lean meat, chicken and fish. Avoid seeds, nuts, raw vegetables, fruits with peels, fatty foods, corn, broccoli, cabbage, beans and peas.
- Stay well hydrated – The day before your procedure, you’ll be instructed not to eat any solid foods. To help ensure proper hydration, you should drink plenty of water and other clear liquids, such as sports drinks, clear juices (apple and white grape) and clear broth. You’ll be able to eat gelatin, ice pops and clear hard candies, but you should avoid anything that is colored red, blue or purple (these dyes discolor the lining of the colon and potentially affect the test result).
- Adjust the prep solution to your liking – If your physician approves, you might add a sugar-free, low-calorie powdered beverage mix to your prep solution to make it more palatable. If you prefer, you can also drink it chilled or through a straw.
- Clear your schedule – The night before your colonoscopy, you should relax at home, if possible. You might want to wear loose, comfortable clothing and have a good book, magazine or movie available.
A colonoscopy is currently the most accurate and effective screening tool for colorectal cancer, and Moffitt offers this painless test with or without a referral. If you’d like to speak with a gastroenterologist about a colonoscopy screening at Moffitt, you can request an appointment by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing our new patient registration form online.