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Ulcerative colitis (UC) causes inflammation and sores in the lining of the colon (lower intestine). A colonoscopy is a test that examines the inside of your colon. Doctors use this test to diagnose UC and determine its severity.

A colonoscopy is also a screening test for colorectal cancer. This is a cancer of the colon and rectum.

Getting regular screenings is important for people who have UC. This is because people with this condition have a higher risk of colorectal cancer.

Colonoscopy is one method that doctors use to diagnose UC. A colonoscope is a long, thin, flexible tube with a camera at the end. A doctor uses it to view the inside of your colon and rectum.

You’ll prepare for this test a few days ahead of time by drinking a laxative that cleans out the inside of your colon. A clean colon is easier for your doctor to examine.

Before the test, you’ll typically get a sedative to relax you. You’ll also get medication to prevent discomfort.

During the test, you’ll lie on your side on a table. A doctor will insert the scope through your anus.

Then, the doctor will look for inflammation and sores inside your intestine. Any precancerous growths, called polyps, will be removed.

Your doctor may also remove a small piece of tissue and send it to a lab for testing. This procedure is called a biopsy. It can help check for cancer or confirm a diagnosis.

A colonoscopy looks for UC damage like swelling, redness, and sores in your intestine. It can show how severe the condition is and how much of your colon it affects. Knowing the extent of the condition will help your doctor determine the right treatment for you.

UC is divided into different types based on where it’s located in your colon.

  • Proctitis: This is only in the rectum. It’s the least severe form of UC.
  • Proctosigmoiditis: This is in the rectum and sigmoid colon, which is the lower part of the colon that’s closest to the rectum.
  • Left-sided colitis: This affects the area from the rectum to the splenic flexure, which is the bend in your colon near your spleen.
  • Pancolitis: This affects your whole colon. If you have inflammation that includes the transverse colon but not the ascending colon, it would still be considered pancolitis even though it doesn’t involve the entire colon.

UC treatments bring down inflammation and give your colon a chance to heal. Your doctor might do periodic colonoscopies to see whether the inflammation has gone down and your intestine lining has healed. These are signs that your treatment is working.

After you’ve lived with UC for many years, the inflammation can start to turn cells in your colon lining cancerous. People with UC are at higher risk of colorectal cancer than people without the condition.

Your cancer risk begins to increase 8 to 10 years after you’re diagnosed with or start showing symptoms of UC. Your cancer risk increases based on the severity of your condition and the amount of your colon that is inflamed.

Overall, your risk is still low. Most people with UC will never get colon cancer. Still, it’s important to be watchful for cancer when you live with this condition.

Experts recommend that you start getting colonoscopy cancer screenings after you’ve had UC for 8 years. If the test is negative, have repeat colonoscopies every 1 to 3 years. During the colonoscopy, your doctor should take biopsies.

Getting this test as often as recommended by your doctor can help identify colorectal cancer early. The sooner you find cancer, the more likely treatment will be successful.