If your doctor finds something unusual during a colonoscopy screening, you might wonder what to do next. Find out what abnormal colonoscopy results could mean.
By Scott Estabrook, MD, Section Chief and Medical Director, Gastroenterology, Nuvance Health
Getting a colonoscopy screening is the first step in detecting possible threats to your digestive health. In fact, colonoscopy screenings can save lives by preventing colorectal cancer or detecting it at an early stage when it is easier to treat. Most people will have normal results and peace of mind taking control of their digestive health. But what happens if your doctor finds something abnormal during a colonoscopy screening?
Learn more about colonoscopies in this video: See what it’s like to get a colonoscopy screening
Here is what to expect if your colonoscopy results come back abnormal so you can feel confident about the next steps.
What are abnormal colonoscopy results?
When your doctor informs you that your colonoscopy came back abnormal, it means your test results show that something was found other than what was expected during the procedure. The abnormality may range in seriousness from findings that are minor, to those that require immediate attention. Depending on the severity of the findings, your doctor can determine what steps should be taken to best help you.
Types of abnormal colonoscopy findings
Types of abnormalities found during your colonoscopy will help your doctor better understand your digestive health. Your doctor will gain insight from these findings to make an appropriate diagnosis and to prescribe treatment options that are best suited for you. Here are some examples of abnormalities that can be found during your colonoscopy.
- Bleeding or lesions
- Other abnormal findings and their implications
Polyps are protrusions found inside your large intestine. They are commonly found along the walls of your colon. Your doctor can remove these polyps during your colonoscopy so that they can be sent to a lab and tested.
The most common polyps removed are noncancerous tumors called adenomas. Although most polyps are benign, some can become cancerous over time. These polyps therefore have cancer potential and are called precancerous. Removing them during a screening colonoscopy can prevent colorectal cancer.
Inflammation can be discovered during a colonoscopy. Inflammation is generally a diffuse area of irritation or ulceration along the walls of the colon. Inflammation in your colon can be the result of many factors including inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis), infection or ischemic colitis. If left untreated, these conditions can lead to symptoms of discomfort, pain, changes in bowel habits and the potential for complications. Your doctor will identify the underlying cause of inflammation in order to determine the appropriate treatment for you.
Related content: Understand ulcerative colitis and gain control of your gut
Bleeding lesions found during your colonoscopy can be either minor or serious. The most common conditions that cause bleeding are diverticulosis, angiodysplasia, abnormal growths such as colon cancer or polyps and rectal lesions such as hemorrhoids or tears. Your doctor will identify the source of bleeding or area where lesions are present and determine a proper diagnosis so you can get the right treatment.
Strictures, tumors or foreign bodies can also turn up as other abnormal findings during your colonoscopy. Each abnormality has its own implications and may require further investigation or treatment. Your doctor will determine the significance of any abnormal finding and evaluate what they mean so they can properly treat you.
Understanding abnormal colonoscopy results
If your colonoscopy results show something abnormal, your doctor might order more tests to find out exactly what's going on. Biopsies are usually needed to determine the exact nature of the tissue removed during your colonoscopy. For example, all polyps removed are sent for biopsy. If biopsies are taken during colonoscopy, it is usually routine and does not imply a finding is cancerous. Additional testing such as imaging may be indicated depending on the abnormality seen. If abnormalities are found, your doctor can recommend additional treatment options that best suit your diagnosis.
Treatment options for abnormal colonoscopy results
When your colonoscopy shows abnormal results, there are different ways to treat the specific issues found. Your doctor will determine the best treatment plan that fits your needs.
Your doctor might suggest colorectal surgery for certain abnormalities like polyps or tumors. If polyps are found during your colonoscopy, they can usually be removed during the procedure using minimally invasive polypectomy. However, if a tumor is discovered, a more extensive surgery may be needed to remove the affected part of your colon. Your doctor will determine the best course of action depending on what abnormalities are found.
Related content: What are types of colorectal cancer treatments?
Apart from surgery, medications and non-invasive treatments can also be used to manage specific conditions found during your colonoscopy. If inflammatory bowel disease is diagnosed, medications like anti-inflammatory drugs or immunosuppressants may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and control symptoms. Changes in diet, probiotics or lifestyle adjustments might also be recommended to you in order to improve your overall colon health.
Related content: Upset stomach or IBD? Recognize the symptoms and find relief
After finding abnormal results, it's crucial that you plan to follow-up with your doctor to monitor the condition and catch any changes early on. Depending on the specific findings, follow-up procedures like repeat colonoscopies, imaging tests or blood work can be scheduled to track the progression of your condition and identify any further issues. Monitoring colon health through colonoscopy is important for timely intervention against colon cancer.
- Find a gastroenterologist in Kingston, Poughkeepsie or Rhinebeck, NY or Sharon, CT.
- Book a pre-colonoscopy screening appointment in Danbury or Norwalk, CT or Carmel, NY.
Can I prevent abnormal colonoscopy results?
Colonoscopy screenings are an important part of your digestive health. While some colonoscopy abnormalities may be unavoidable, if you adopt a healthy lifestyle, you can lower the risk of developing certain conditions, including colorectal cancer Lifestyle changes include having a balanced diet with plenty of fiber, staying physically active, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption.
Related content: Exercise and nutrition facts about colorectal cancer risk
The bottom line: Abnormalities found in your colonoscopy mean your test results show that something was found other than what was expected during the procedure. Findings may range in seriousness from minor to those that require immediate attention. Polyps are among the most common abnormal findings and are typically removed during your colonoscopy. However, depending on the severity of the findings, your doctor can determine what steps should be taken to best help you. After finding abnormal results, it's crucial that you plan to follow-up with your doctor to monitor the condition and catch any changes early on so you can feel your best. Changes in diet, probiotics or lifestyle adjustments might also be recommended to you in order to improve your overall colon health.