Expert screening, testing and treatment for conditions affecting the colon and rectum

Colonoscopies at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital—Needham  

A colonoscopy is a procedure that helps gastroenterologists examine the lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum. It uses a long, flexible tube (colonoscope) with a light and tiny camera on one end.

Colonoscopies at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital–Needham take place in our Endoscopy Unit in the Outpatient Clinical Center on our main campus. The unit offers state-of-the-art technology, an expert staff and a welcoming environment to help you be as comfortable as possible during your visit.  

About Colonoscopies

During the procedure, the gastroenterologist advances the colonoscope from the rectum into the colon to look for these and other problems:

  • Bleeding
  • Irritated, red or swollen tissue
  • Polyps (non-cancerous growths that can become cancerous)
  • Ulcers (sores on the digestive tract lining)

A colonoscopy also can be used to remove abnormal tissue for testing and to treat blockages in the colon. Most patients choose to be sedated during a colonoscopy.

Reasons to Have a Colonoscopy

Your primary care doctor or gastroenterologist may recommend a colonoscopy to:

  • Look for possible causes of intestinal problems, such as abdominal pain, rectal bleeding and diarrhea.
  • Look for additional polyps if you’ve had polyps in the past.
  • Screen for colon cancer.
When to be Screened

According to the American Cancer Society, most people should start regular screenings at age 45. Your doctor may recommend starting younger if you have:

  • A family history of hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome.
  • A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis).
  • A personal history of radiation to the belly or pelvic area to treat a prior cancer.
  • A personal history or strong family history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps.

Schedule an Appointment

To make an appointment for Dr. Steven Cohen, Dr. Stephen Rotman, or Dr. Sonal Ullman call Needham Gastroenterology Associates directly at 781-444-6460 or call the Gastroenterology Department at 781-453-7861.

To make an appointment for Dr. Matthew Sullivan, call 781-453-3688.

Frequently Asked Questions

Find answers here to common questions about colonoscopies.
Why Are Colonoscopies Important for Detecting Cancer?

Colonoscopy is a tool doctors use to screen for colon cancer and rectal cancer (called colorectal cancer). Colorectal cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States for men and women.

You need to get screened for colorectal cancer even if you don’t have symptoms. In most people, colorectal cancer cells grow very slowly, and symptoms don’t appear until the disease has advanced. A colonoscopy is used to detect and remove polyps and take tissue samples for testing. Some, but not all, polyps eventually will become cancerous growths.

Learn about colorectal cancer prevention and screening in your preferred language:

What Can I Expect Before a Colonoscopy?

Your colon must be as empty as possible for the gastroenterologist to get a good view of your colon and rectum during the procedure. The endoscopy team will provide you with detailed instructions beforehand. You may be asked to:

  • Follow a special diet.
  • Take over-the-counter or prescription laxatives.
  • Adjust other medications, especially if you you take medication for diabetes, heart problems or weight management.
  • Fasting from food and water before your procedure.
What Can I Expect During a Colonoscopy?

Our goal is to make your colonoscopy experience as comfortable as possible. When you arrive at the Endoscopy Unit, a team member will greet you and escort you to the treatment area. You will change into a gown, answer questions about your health history and sign consent forms. The gastroenterologist will stop by to answer any questions you have.

When it’s time for your colonoscopy, a team member will roll your bed into a procedure room. A nurse will attach monitoring equipment (such as a heart monitor and blood pressure cuff) and provide nasal oxygen. You will be administered sedation medication through an IV line.

Once you are sedated, the gastroenterologist will pass the colonoscope into the rectum and gently advance the instrument through the colon to examine it thoroughly. A colonoscopy takes about 20 to 45 minutes. The gastroenterologist may remove polyps during the test, take tissue samples or provide treatment.

Our endoscopy team will monitor you in the recovery area for about an hour after your procedure. Before sending you home, we'll give you instructions on diet, medications and any follow-up care you may need. The physician also will discuss the initial findings with you.

A responsible adult will need to pick you up in our Center 2 hours after your scheduled arrival time. A rideshare (Uber, Lyft, etc.), taxi, or public transportation is allowed only if a responsible friend or family member accompanies you. If you do not have a ride arranged your procedure cannot be performed with sedation.

What Can I Expect After a Colonoscopy?

After you return home, you may have mild gas pains and notice you pass gas more frequently than usual. Moving around may help ease any discomfort.

Contact the endoscopy team if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Consistent belly pain, swelling or hardening
  • Difficulty passing gas
  • Fever or chills
  • Frequent, bloody stools

If you had sedation, don’t do any of the following for 24 hours after your procedure:

  • Drink alcoholic beverages
  • Drive a vehicle
  • Make any important decisions or sign legal documents
  • Operate machinery
  • Take sleeping medication

If the gastroenterologist sends tissue to a lab for testing, your results will be available on our Patient Portal.

The gastroenterologist may recommend follow-up care depending on your test results. For example, if you didn’t have any polyps, you may not need another colonoscopy for seven to 10 years. You may need another colonoscopy sooner if you had more than two polyps. If a polyp was cancerous, the gastroenterologist will refer you to a cancer specialist who can provide further testing and next steps.

Be sure to follow your doctor’s advice for follow-up care and get screened regularly for colorectal cancer. It could save your life.

Will I Be Sedated for My Colonoscopy?

Sedation is optional for a colonoscopy, but most patients choose to have it. If you decide to have sedation, our endoscopy team will provide the safest, most effective level of sedation. We’ll monitor you throughout the procedure. You probably will not remember your colonoscopy due to the sedation medication.

What About Stool-Based Tests?

Colonoscopy is one type of colorectal cancer screening tool. The other type is “stool based.” There are important differences between these two types of tests. Talk to your doctor about which may be best for your situation. But remember: the most important thing is to get screened regularly.

Services & Specialties

Gastroenterologists work with the following specialties at BID Needham to deliver the care you need.