There are a number of different colon cancer screenings – including the flexible sigmoidoscopy and the x-ray barium enema – that can detect cancerous lesions and polyps, but there are a few reasons why the colonoscopy is the most common of these procedures.
First, it looks at the entirety of the colon and rectum vs. just a portion of either. Unlike other screenings, it also allows medical professionals to remove cancerous lesions and polyps if any are detected, and the colonoscopy can spot and remove various abnormalities that aren’t yet cancerous but may become so in time.
The American Cancer Society recommends all adults over 50 begin having regular colon cancer screenings, and for all of these reasons, the colonoscopy is the most commonly conducted colon cancer screening. According to the The New York Times, 55 percent of Americans ages 50 to 65 received this test in 2010 – more than three times the rate from a decade earlier, which signals an embrace of this particular screening’s effectiveness by both medical professionals and the public at large.
This is all to say that a colonoscopy can be extremely important. Colon cancer is preventable when detected early and can be deadly when detected too late or not detected at all. And because it’s such an effective and in-demand exam, its price tag can be mighty intimidating.
Here’s everything you need to know about getting a colonoscopy, including how you can use HealthCost to find the best, most cost-effective option near you.
How Does a Colonoscopy Work?
The actual screening is relatively short. A doctor uses a colonoscope, which is a flexible tube about the circumference of your finger that has a very small camera on the end of it, to send images of the inside of your colon to a television screen. Patients are put to sleep for the duration of the test, which lasts approximately 30-60 minutes. For this reason, colonoscopies are pretty painless, though during the procedure, the doctor puffs air into the colon to keep it open for the camera. This may cause some minor cramping that goes away after a short while.
More time-consuming is preparation for a colonoscopy, which is necessary because the cleaner the images are, the more accurate the screening will be. Bowel prep takes many different forms. Patients will be asked to refrain from eating high-fiber foods for a few days in advance of the procedure. On the day before and the day of, no solid foods should be consumed. (Instead, stick to broths, juices, Jell-O, etc.) And patients will also be asked to drink an intense laxative that will initiate diarrhea. You will go over the specific details of your bowel prep plan with your doctor in advance of your colonoscopy, and any questions about it should be directed to him or her.
You will need to be driven home following the test because you went under, and you should plan on staying home for the rest of the day until the drugs wear off.
How Much Does a Colonoscopy Cost?
The average cost of a colonoscopy is in the range of $3,000, but as with all medical procedures, this one costs something different depending on a variety of factors.
The first is your location. Variance occurs here because a colonoscopy can be done in a hospital or at a doctor’s office or outpatient facility. In HealthCost’s search tool, a colonoscopy in an outpatient center in Atlanta may cost around $1,500, while the same procedure by the same doctor in a hospital is between three and four times that amount.
Another factor in the overall price is the exact type of procedure being done. Will a biopsy be conducted? Will polyps be removed? Is it a preventative screening? Or is it being done to address certain symptoms?
The overall cost of the procedure generally includes fees for your prep kit, sedation (and who’s administering it), analysis of any tissue that’s removed, and use of the facility and its resources. You can use HealthCost’s search tool to weigh the options that are near you.
What Happens After a Colonoscopy?
You may begin eating solid foods after your procedure, though most doctors recommend taking it easy on your digestive system with gentle, low-fiber foods, including soup, crackers, popsicles, and more. You also need to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. After two or three days, your system should be back to normal.
Your doctor will review the images, and a lab will analyze any small polyps during the procedure. If the analysis comes back negative, you won’t need another colonoscopy for about ten years. You may need to come in sooner – six months, a year, five years, depending on what your doctor sees – if the images aren’t completely clear or if any polyps appear to be pre-cancerous.
In rare cases, large polyps will not be able to be removed during the colonoscopy, but a doctor will take a biopsy. If that comes back as cancerous, you may need to have it removed surgically.