Skip to main content

Colonoscopy + Colorectal Screening

A colonoscopy is an exam where a doctor inserts a flexible scope into the large intestine to detect any warning signs — ulcers, colon polyps, tumors and areas of inflammation or bleeding — for colon cancer and other diseases. If you're over the age of 45 or have certain colon cancer risk factors, it's a smart idea to schedule regular colonoscopies.

Request an appointment

Why you should prioritize a colonoscopy prevention test

There are many things to look forward to as we age, and while getting a colonoscopy may not be high on that list, it can be a life-saving screening procedure. 

Most diagnostic tests look for signs that something's already wrong in your body. However, a colonoscopy is a prevention test and can find at least 95% of colon cancers. It's considered the gold standard for understanding your colon health. Plus, the procedure isn't painful or uncomfortable since you'll be sedated before the exam.

You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to take your colorectal health seriously. And we owe it to you to make doing that as convenient as possible.

Amber Gross, SRNA (nurse assistant), Heidi MacFarlane, RN, Jason Hall, MD and Sharma Joseph, MD preparing patient for colon and rectal surgery
Find a doctor near me


Did you know that about 1 in 20 people will develop colon cancer at some point in their life? That makes it one of the most common cancers in the U.S. It's usually caused by the growth of tiny clumps of cells, known as polyps, in the rectum or colon.

Even though polyps usually start as benign (not cancerous), they can develop into cancerous tumors that require surgery or chemotherapy to treat.

Colon cancer is often asymptomatic, which means it won't show any symptoms until the disease has progressed. It's important to note that colon cancer and common gastrointestinal conditions share symptoms, including hemorrhoids, ulcers or colitis (inflamed colon).

Talk to your doctor right away if you're experiencing additional symptoms like:

Abdominal pain
Decreased appetite
Persistent tiredness or fatigue
Rectal bleeding
Thinner stool
Unexplained weight loss


A colonoscopy is the most effective way to prevent colon cancer because if we find a polyp during the procedure, we can remove it on the spot. And since we're viewing the colon in real-time, it helps us better identify anything concerning.

You'll be sedated for your colonoscopy so you may feel a bit sleepy afterward. We want to ensure you leave our offices safely, so arrange for an adult to escort you home. We'll cancel and reschedule your colonoscopy if you don't have an escort on the day of your procedure.

How to prepare for a colonoscopy

There are important things you should know and do before your colonoscopy. We have you covered with this handy colonoscopy preparation checklist.

Do’s before your colonoscopyDon’ts before your colonoscopy
  • Talk with your doctor about how any blood thinners or diabetes medications you currently take may impact your colonoscopy
  • Continue taking aspirin as regularly prescribed
  • Complete your medical questionnaire and medication list
  • Start a low-fiber diet about 5 days beforehand
  • Pick up your preparation (clear liquid we prescribe) from the pharmacy 2 days beforehand
  • Start a clear liquid diet when it's time to take the preparation
  • Don't stop taking iron or multivitamins with iron
  • Don’t eat or drink any dairy products
  • Don't eat or drink anything red







Bowel preparation tips

Bowel preparation, or prep for short, is a liquid medication we prescribe to cleanse your colon before the colonoscopy.

You'll start drinking the prep the evening before your colonoscopy. We recommend splitting the prep into two servings:

  1. Drink half the bottle the evening before your colonoscopy.
  2. Drink the second half the morning of your procedure. The whole bottle must be finished two – four hours before your procedure. 

For people who experience severe constipation, your doctor may start you on a "pre-prep" routine three days before your procedure and before drinking your standard prep.

Prep isn't the most delicious drink you'll ever have, but there are ways to make it go down easier. Try these tips from fellow colonoscopy patients:

  • Add ginger ale or a drink mix packet like Crystal Light (as long as it's not red) to the prep to give it a different flavor.
  • After mixing the prep, place it in the refrigerator and drink it chilled.
  • Using a straw can make the prep easier to drink.
  • If the prep isn't going down well, wait one hour, then start sipping at a slower pace.
  • Keep drinking the prep, even if you haven't had a bowel movement.
  • Suck on hard candy (as long as it's not red) between servings.
What to expect the day of your colonoscopy

Please follow these tips starting the morning of your colonoscopy:

  • Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, take your usual medication with a sip of water.
  • Stop your clear liquid diet at least 2 hours before your procedure time. Avoid eating or drinking until after your procedure.
  • Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes.

Plan to spend about 3 hours in our office for your colonoscopy. We ask that you arrive one hour before your scheduled procedure to allow enough time to prepare you for sedation, along with answering any questions you may have. The actual colonoscopy only takes about 30 minutes.

Your bowel must be empty to view your colon and remove polyps. We use a thin, flexible instrument called a colonoscope to examine your colon for the procedure. The colonoscope has a light and a camera on the end of it.

After the procedure

You’ll rest and recover in the endoscopy unit recovery area for about 1 hour before we give you the green light to leave with your escort. We'll share your results within a few days of your colonoscopy.

Colonoscopies are routine procedures that are generally recommended every 10 years. Your doctor will discuss how frequently to have one, given your unique health story and family history.



Why should I get a colonoscopy instead of a stool test?

Stool tests like Cologuard© are becoming more popular because they're less invasive than colonoscopies. And depending on your unique healthcare needs, your doctor may believe that a stool test is the right screening for you.

It's important to note that a stool test misses about 1 in 12 cancers and about 60% of polyps, whereas a colonoscopy is much more accurate. Plus, most people only need a colonoscopy once every 10 years (unless otherwise stated by your doctor), while stool testing requires more frequent screening.

Does a colonoscopy hurt?

No, a colonoscopy doesn’t hurt. In fact, you won't feel the procedure at all because we'll give you anesthesia that helps you relax and makes you sleepy. Many people find drinking the prep before their colonoscopy more unpleasant than the procedure itself.

Why is the recommended age for colon screening lower now?

The age for colon cancer screening was lowered as we witnessed a rise in newly diagnosed colon cancer cases for people in their mid to late 40s. We lowered the age to try to catch these cancers before they're fully formed or before they become a more advanced cancer.

How does race affect my risk for developing colon cancer?

We recommend talking with your doctor to know if your race, family history or genetic history puts you at higher risk.

Do I need to take the day off for a colonoscopy?

We recommend taking things easy on the day of your colonoscopy. Since you'll be spending at least 3 hours at our office and will be sedated during the procedure, you probably won't be able to perform your best at work. We're happy to talk to your supervisor and provide any documentation if need be.

Does my insurance cover a colonoscopy?

Insurance is required to pay for every aspect of a colon cancer screening, from the prep solution to the examination itself. In January 2022, the federal government announced that insurance must also cover a follow-up appointment to evaluate a positive, non-invasive stool test like Cologuard.

How can I prevent colon cancer?

Following a healthy lifestyle will reduce your risk for colon cancer. That includes avoiding tobacco, keeping a healthy weight, being physically active and eating a high-fiber diet while avoiding too many red or processed meats.

As I prepare for my colonoscopy prep, what foods are not part of a low-fiber diet?

We’ll ask that you start a low-fiber diet before your colonoscopy. This means cutting out foods like:

  • Corn
  • Fiber supplements (Metamucil®)
  • Nuts
  • Raw vegetables (broccoli, carrots, celery, cucumbers, lettuce, etc.)
  • Seeds
As I prepare for my colonoscopy prep, what liquids are allowed for a clear liquid diet?

As long as they don't include red dyes, you can drink these liquids as part of your clear liquid diet:

  • Apple juice
  • Black coffee
  • Clear broth
  • Jell-O®
  • Soda
  • Sports drinks
  • Tea
  • Water
Dr. Jason Hall, Surgeon-in-Chief and Chair of the Department of Surgery at Tufts Medical Center, talking to patient before surgery.
Our locations

From regular office visits to inpatient stays, find the healthcare you need and deserve close to home.

Nurse comforting patient before a colon and rectal surgery.
Our doctors + care team

Meet the doctors and care team devoted to supporting you every step of the way along your path to better health.

Understand what you may pay for care at Tufts Medicine with our price estimate tool.

Jump back to top