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A colonoscopy examines the large intestine for inflammation, bleeding, ulcers or abnormal growths, such as polyps or cancer. The doctor uses a colonoscope: a small, lighted camera inside a soft, flexible tube. The procedure usually lasts from 30 minutes to an hour.  

The procedure can:

  • Detect and treat colon cancer or colon polyps
  • Take tissue samples for testing
  • Stop intestinal bleeding
  • Monitor inflammatory bowel disease treatment

The Colonoscopy Procedure

You will lie on your left side, knees drawn up toward your chest. The doctor will insert the colonoscope through your rectum, inject air, then gently pass the scope through your colon.

The doctor will then:

  • Examine the lining of the colon 
  • Remove tissue samples or polyps, if necessary

Polyp Removal

Using the scope, the doctor will locate the polyp, then snip it off or burn it with an electric current. The electric current also closes the wound and stops bleeding. 

Larger polyps may require a laparoscopic surgical procedure. Special surgical tools will enter through small incisions in your abdomen in order to locate and remove the polyp.

After the procedure, your provider will send the polyps to a lab for testing.

colonoscope diagram
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Your Experience

During the procedure, you may feel:

  • Discomfort
  • Cramping
  • Muscle spasms
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • The urge to move your bowels

Tell the doctor if you feel any severe pain.


Content was created using EBSCO's Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.