Colonoscopy Services Overview

Colonoscopy Services

Colonoscopy Services Overview

 Thanks to better prevention, early detection and treatment, the American Cancer Society1 estimates that over one million Americans have survived colon or rectal cancer. Many forms of colorectal cancer stem from polyps, abnormal growths that are easily removed during a colonoscopy screening. Northwestern Medicine is home to caring, skilled endoscopy specialists2, who provide advanced colonoscopy services.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States—but 90 percent of colorectal cancer cases are curable if caught early. If you are aged 50 or over or have risk factors, you should ask your physician about a colonoscopy. Northwestern Medicine board-certified physicians encourage you to get your colonoscopy screening at one of our locations. Colon screening is recommended for men and women who are:

  • Over the age of 50
  • Smokers
  • Overweight
  • In a family with a history of cancer

Your colonoscopy experience

When you are ready to have a colonoscopy, the skilled and caring teams at Northwestern Medicine can help make your procedure safe, effective and as pleasant as possible. Spacious endoscopy suites feature the latest technology, and personal preparation and recovery bays offer comfort and privacy.

Importance of colonoscopy

The American Cancer Society recommends that everyone have a colonoscopy starting at age 50 or even earlier, if you are at risk. A colonoscopy is a safe, simple and effective way to check for colon cancer and to treat suspicious colon polyps.

In the early stages of colorectal cancer, no symptoms are present, so preventive screening is essential. Cancer growth in your colon or rectum can go on for years or even decades before any symptoms occur. Once symptoms do begin, treatment is far more difficult, and your chances of beating the disease are significantly reduced.

Talk to your physician about your risk for colorectal cancer and whether you should have a colonoscopy.

Colonoscopy procedure

During a colonoscopy, a thin, lighted tube—called a colonoscope—is inserted into your body through your rectum. A camera at the end of this tube transmits images, allowing your physician to examine your entire colon and rectum. If polyps are found, they can be easily and effectively removed. The colonoscopy procedure itself typically takes just 10 to 30 minutes.

While a colonoscopy is an excellent cancer screening tool, your physician may also order the procedure if you are experiencing abdominal pain, bowel changes, weight loss, anemia or other symptoms.

Benefits to you

Whether used for screening or to help diagnose your colon and rectal health, a colonoscopy provides vital information and the ability to:

  • Identify and remove any potentially cancerous polyps
  • Assess changes in bowel habits
  • Detect inflammation and diseases
  • Find the cause of bleeding or pain
  • Confirm your lower intestines are in good health
  • Begin treatment, if needed

Talk to your physician about your risk for colorectal cancer and whether you should have a colonoscopy.

Quality in colonoscopy

In the new era of healthcare, quality measures have become an essential component of physician practice. Northwestern Medicine has made quality in colonoscopy a priority to provide the best outcomes for patients while also exceeding national benchmarks.

At Northwestern Medicine, the Division of Gastroenterology Multidisciplinary Quality Committee is composed of physician, nursing and hospital administration leadership. This group meets monthly to ensure that we are providing a quality endoscopic examination: one that is safe, comfortable and effective. Although seemingly straightforward, consistent effort is required to ensure that these goals are met on a daily basis with each patient.

Colonoscopy is the most frequently performed procedure in the gastroenterology laboratory at Northwestern Memorial Hospital with approximately 17,000 exams performed annually in a single location. For this reason, colonoscopy is a major focus of the committee’s efforts on ensuring quality. Colonoscopy is most frequently performed for the detection and removal of precancerous colon polyps, called adenomas, which can lead to colorectal cancer.

Thus, it is critical that physicians spend sufficient time examining the colon to look for polyps and removing adenomas. Since 2012, physicians at Northwestern Medicine have been receiving periodic automated report cards detailing their adenoma detection rates (percentage of screening colonoscopies with an adenoma detected) and withdrawal times (amount of time spent looking for polyps in the colon).

Furthermore, the endoscopists have the ability to compare their scores to their peers, which can be a powerful tool in quality improvement. In fact, since the report cards have been distributed, the overall adenoma detection rate has increased by nearly 5% in the entire lab.

Additional efforts are underway concurrently in the endoscopy lab. These initiatives including ensuring that endoscopic procedures are not overused (which can come at a cost both to the patient and the healthcare system), periodic physician and nurse evaluations, tracking and minimizing procedural complications and optimizing communication between physicians, nurses and patients.

In addition, as leaders in endoscopic quality, multiple ongoing research studies have the potential to not only impact the quality of care at Northwestern Medicine, but around the world. Above all, our goal is to provide each patient a quality endoscopic examination.

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