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How to Prepare for a Colon Cancer Screening

December 28, 2022

Colon and rectal cancers are among the leading causes of cancer deaths in the US. These two types of cancers are often referred to as colorectal. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advises that you begin getting screenings for colorectal cancer at the age of 45. Screening tests can catch abnormal growths before they turn into a bigger problem. They may also catch cancer in its beginning stage and you have a higher chance of defeating cancer when you detect it early. Here are some tips to help you prepare for your colonoscopy.

Are You More Vulnerable to Developing Colorectal Cancer?

Some people may want to get regular screenings before age 45 because they are at a higher risk of colorectal cancer. You might also need more frequent screenings if you are more vulnerable to colon and rectal cancer.

Risk factors include:


  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Family history of colorectal cancer
  • Personal history of colorectal cancer
  • Familial adenomatous polyposis
  • Lynch syndrome

How to Prepare for Colonoscopy

Colonoscopy prep should begin about three days before the date of your procedure. You should stay hydrated in the days leading up to and after your screening. There are several other important things to know about preparing for a colonoscopy.

Follow a Colonoscopy Diet

 You should follow a colonoscopy diet three days before your screening to ensure a successful screening. Avoid eating whole grains, raw fruits and vegetables, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, and alcohol.

You can’t eat any solid foods the day before your procedure. Stick to clear fluids.

Examples of acceptable liquids are:


  • Broth
  • Bouillon
  • Tea
  • Apple juice
  • White grape juice
  • Clear soft drinks
  • Clear sports drinks

You may also eat popsicles and jello. However, you need to avoid liquids that have red, purple, or blue dye.

On the day of your procedure, you should continue only to eat clear fluids and avoid ingesting anything two hours before the screening.

Clear the Bowels

Before your colonoscopy, you must take a bowel prep product in the afternoon or evening. Your doctor will most likely let you know which bowel prep to take because they usually have a preference. The instructions on how to use the prep medication depend on its type.

Be aware that you’ll probably have to use the bathroom quite a bit, so you should take the day off and relax. The urge to use the bathroom will be strong, so you want to ensure that you have quick access to the toilet. You may want to use adult wipes to keep everything clean as well. If your skin around that area becomes irritated, you can apply some Vaseline externally to soothe it.

Preparing a laxative drink usually requires drinking at least 6–8 glasses of fluid daily to make the stool softer. Some liquid medications for colonoscopy can be taken with juice to improve the flavor. You can suck on a lemon or a hard candy after drinking the laxative to get the bad taste out of your mouth if you don’t like the taste.

Don’t be alarmed if your stool turns yellow. It’s normal for a healthy colon to produce yellow liquid.

You might also experience abdominal cramps and bloating when you take a laxative. One way of easing these symptoms is to take medicine more slowly. It takes around 12–16 hours to clear your bowels fully.

Stop Taking Certain Medications

Some medications negatively react with laxatives and/or sedatives for colonoscopy. Types of medications that you might be given for a colonoscopy include diazepam, midazolam, fentanyl, propofol, meperidine and diphenhydramine. You can ask your doctor what drugs will be used and what harmful interactions to watch out for. Examples of drugs and supplements to stop taking are fiber supplements, anti-diarrheal medication, iron supplements and medications with iron. You might also have to stop blood thinners before the procedure.

What Should You Do After Your Colonoscopy?

Arrange for someone to drive you home after the colonoscopy. It’s not safe to drive for at least eight hours. You should stay within a two-hour drive of a medical center for two weeks because there’s a small risk of bleeding. Don’t sign legal documents or make significant decisions within eight hours either because the sedation you were given can affect your judgment. It’s best to rest at home. You want to take it easy and avoid aggressive exercising, heavy lifting or anything that requires a lot of activity.

Unless your doctor instructs otherwise, you can resume eating the foods you were before the colonoscopy. Avoid alcohol for at least eight hours after the procedure. Drink plenty of fluids to rehydrate yourself as well. You may have to wait several days to begin retaking certain medications. Your doctor will let you know if this is the case.

Preparing for a colonoscopy may not be the most comfortable process, but regular screenings are essential to catch abnormal growths early. Colonoscopy prep is necessary to ensure that the procedure goes correctly. If the doctor cannot clearly see your colon, they will need to reschedule another appointment.