Understanding Your Colonoscopy Results

Medically reviewed by: Eiman Firoozmand, MD

In the past, you had to talk to your doctor to receive your colonoscopy results. With technology today, however, many patients have the opportunity to review their results in detail after the procedure but before they see their doctor again. While we always recommend discussing your results with your doctor after your sedatives wear off, we know it is unrealistic to tell you not to take a peek. Having a general understanding of what you are reading is important.

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Getting Your Preliminary Results

Your physician will likely brief you on the preliminary results of your colonoscopy in the recovery room after your procedure. We usually keep this short and simple. We know this conversation may be fuzzy in your memory, or you may not remember it at all because of the sedatives we gave you.

In general, you can expect your preliminary results to sound something like “Your bowel looks healthy, with no sign of disease” or “We found a few small polyps and were able to remove them.” These results are meant to give you a broad idea of how things went.

Because they are brief and straightforward – and because you still have the sedating drugs in your bloodstream – you probably will not have many questions about what you are told before you leave the hospital, clinic, or surgery center on the day of your procedure. Your doctor may send you home with printed images and results, or these may be available for download from a secured Web server or app.

If they removed any polyps that required a biopsy, they will likely tell you when they expect the results. This depends on a number of factors, but it may be a couple of days to a week.

Reviewing Your Results

After the sedatives are out of your system and you are thinking clearly again, you can review your full results. Overall, there are two general findings:

Negative result

Having a negative colonoscopy is the best possible outcome. It means the doctor found nothing but a healthy colon during the procedure. Since there were no abnormalities, there is little else to discuss as far as your results go. They may include information on when to schedule your future screening. In some cases, your doctor could recommend repeating the exam sooner than expected. This may happen if they did not get a good look at the entire colon because of residual waste, issues getting a clear picture with the camera, or other rare problems.

Positive result

If your colonoscopy results list a positive finding, this means your doctor spotted a polyp or other abnormality in the colon. This is very common, and not a reason to panic. Most polyps are harmless, and your doctor probably removed it during the colonoscopy.

Some polyps, however, can be cancerous or precancerous. The details in your colonoscopy report will give you a better idea of what they will be looking for if they sent tissues for biopsy.

What If They Found Polyps?

Polyps are extremely common. We find some type of abnormality in about a quarter of all colonoscopies, and the risk increases with age. When possible, we remove polyps during the screening and send the tissue to the lab for a biopsy.

The results are almost always benign, but because most colon cancer develops from this type of growth, this is an important step in ensuring you do not have any signs of cancer.

In general, there are two things to look for in your colonoscopy results that could indicate precancerous or cancerous conditions. This includes:

Large or Numerous Polyps

Most polyps are small, harmless growths that do not develop into cancer. However, when we discover larger polyps or a large number of these polyps there may be an increased risk of cancer. This is especially true of polyps that measure more than one centimeter.


Adenomas are the type of polyp that is most likely to be precancerous. This does not mean your biopsy will be positive for cancer, but there is an increased risk. Because of the high risk of cancer associated with this type of growth, we will usually recommend more frequent screenings in the future.

How Do I Know If Anything Appears Cancerous?

Your colonoscopy results may include information on how any polyp removed looked grossly but it may not tell you how aggressive the polyp may be. The polyp is sent to a pathologist where it is examined under a microscope to tell you how abnormal it may be. Polyps with low-grade dysplasia only appear to be slightly abnormal. Those with high-grade dysplasia look more like a precancerous growth.

It is important to remember that just because a growth looks like it might be cancerous does not mean it is; the opposite is also true. This is just the first level of screening the tissue will go through. We will not know for sure until the lab completes the biopsy.

What Do I Need to Know About My Future Care?

If your colonoscopy results were negative, you will just need to continue following the screening schedule recommended by your doctor based on your age, health history, and genetic factors.

If you have a positive result, this may change the way your doctor handles your case. Even if you had no signs of cancer in the tissue removed, you may need more frequent screenings to ensure any future polyps are removed as soon as possible.

If you have an adenoma or other abnormal polyp, your doctor will let you know if they cannot fully remove it during the colonoscopy. This may mean you need additional procedures including possible surgery to remove the tissue. A precancerous or cancerous growth may also require additional treatment.

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