Colonoscopy: what you need to know

Find out what you need to know if you are having a colonoscopy. The Colonoscopy Clinical Care Standard describes what you can expect before, during and after a colonoscopy.

What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a procedure that uses a thin flexible tube with a tiny camera attached. It is used to look inside your bowel. A doctor may suggest a colonoscopy if you have bowel problems or symptoms, or if you have done a bowel cancer screening test ('poo test') that has returned a positive result. It may also be recommended because of your previous colonoscopy results or family history.

What you need to know before you have a colonoscopy

This video explains more about your rights, choices and what you need to do if you are having a colonoscopy and why preparing your bowel is so important.

More information for clinicianshealth service organisations and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is also available.

What is involved in a colonoscopy?

  • You will be advised about what to eat and drink leading up to the procedure. You will be asked to drink a special preparation to help empty your bowel. This is called 'bowel preparation', and is important because it helps the doctor or nurse to see your bowel clearly.

  • You should have the opportunity to ask questions and decide whether to go ahead with the colonoscopy before you start the bowel preparation. This is called giving informed consent. It is important to remember that you can ask more questions, or even withdraw your consent, at any time.

  • Before your colonoscopy, you will be given a medicine to relax you (called sedation).

  • The colonoscopy procedure itself involves passing the thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera attached (a colonoscope) into the rectum. The doctor or nurse carrying out the procedure will look inside your bowel and may also remove polyps (small growths) or samples for testing. The procedure itself takes about 20 to 30 minutes and you will usually be able to go home about two hours later, after the effect of the sedation wears off.

  • After the procedure you will be informed briefly about how the procedure went, and any follow-up that is required. You will be sent a report for your records about the procedure and its results.

Find out more about these steps in the Colonoscopy Clinical Care Standard below.

What the Colonoscopy Clinical Care Standard means for you

If you are having a colonoscopy, it is important to know the care that you can expect to receive before, during and after your colonoscopy.

Find out what the Colonoscopy Clinical Care Standard says and what it means for you in the statements below. Reading these statements will inform your discussion with your healthcare professional.

Hear an expert explain why we need the Colonoscopy Clinical Care Standard

Watch Sophie Scott interviewing Dr Anne Duggan about colonoscopy and the clinical care standard. ​

Useful resources from the Commission

Additional resources