Beating bowel cancer together

Top tips and advice for someone going for their first colonoscopy

Tuesday 18 January 2022

A colonoscopy is a common test used to help diagnose bowel cancer or investigate other bowel problems. A long flexible tube with a bright light and a tiny camera on the end is inserted through your back passage and enables the doctor or nurse to get a clear view of the bowel lining. During the test, if the doctor sees anything that needs further investigation, photographs and samples (biopsies) can be taken. Simple polyps can also be removed.

We know some people feel anxious or worried when they're told they need a colonoscopy but it's important to have this test if you're referred. Recently on our social media channels we asked our followers for their tips and advice for someone going for their first colonoscopy. We had an amazing response with hundreds of people sharing their experience and offering support to others. Here's what they told us:

  • It's not as bad or as scary as you might think
  • Focus on your breathing if you feel anxious or scared
  • If you're anxious, ask whether you can have sedation
  • "I zone out, I imagine I'm somewhere else for example in the sun on a beach hearing the waves of the sea"

Bowel preparation

Lots of people also mentioned the preparation before having a colonoscopy. The most important part of the preparation is bowel cleaning. When the bowel is cleaned out properly, there's a better chance of seeing the bowel wall clearly to spot any changes. Bowel preparation usually involves a combination of medicine to drink and a temporary change in your diet. People said:

  • The prep is worse than the procedure
  • Drinking the bowel preparation through a straw makes it a little easier
  • Follow all of the instructions and do all the preparation, it's not pleasant but will mean the procedure will be smoother
  • Worst part is the prep but even that's not the end of the world
  • Treat yourself to quilted toilet paper. Barrier cream and wipes can also help
  • Eat only the things recommended for the few days before

Healthcare team

There were also lots of comments about the healthcare professionals who carry out the procedure and how they've helped people feel more comfortable and put them at ease. Our followers told us:

  • The nurses and doctors who carry out this procedure do it all the time
  • Always tell the healthcare professional how you're feeling, if you're anxious they can help
  • The team taking care of me were wonderful, they kept me as calm and relaxed as possible

"Those minutes can save your life"

Many people stressed how having a colonoscopy had saved their life and strongly encouraged others to have the procedure if referred for one. Most people who have a colonoscopy won’t have bowel cancer. But, if bowel cancer is detected at its earliest stage nearly everybody is treated successfully. People said:

  • If nothing is found – great. If something is found, it's just as well you had the colonoscopy
  • Go for your appointment, having a colonoscopy was the first step on the journey that saved my life
  • It's only a few minutes out of your life, those minutes can save your life
  • There are better ways to spend a morning, but this could be the most important appointment you keep
  • This could be lifesaving. Don't delay. It's not as bad as you think it might be
  • My advice to anyone feeling nervous about this procedure is to try and think of it not as something unpleasant to endure, but as a positive way to ensure early diagnosis

The snacks...

And there were also lots of positive comments about the snacks you can have afterwards! People told us:

  • The cup of tea and biscuits afterwards is wonderful
  • Take your favourite snack for afterwards as you'll be hungry
  • The post procedure sandwiches are the best you'll ever taste
  • I thoroughly enjoyed my cheese sandwich and cup of coffee afterwards as I was so hungry!

To help people feel less worried about going for a colonoscopy, we've created the Colonoscopy Confidence campaign. Find out what a colonoscopy is, what's involved and hear from people who have had a colonoscopy.

Find out more about the campaign

Watch our animated film above to find out more about what a colonoscopy is and what's involved.

This video is also available to watch with Welsh, Urdu, Bengali, Chinese (Mandarin) and Arabic subtitles. You can switch language using the video settings directly on YouTube.

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