What is a Sigmoidoscopy?

What is a Sigmoidoscopy?

by Shearly (SU)

A sigmoidoscopy is a procedure that allows your doctor to get a detailed view of the lower part of your colon and the inside of your rectum. The colon is another word for the large intestine, where food is further broken down for the body to absorb water and nutrients. The remaining waste is formed into a stool where it exits the body through the rectum.

About 20 inches long, the sigmoidoscope is a flexible cord that has a camera on the end and a tiny light. Images from your colon and the inside of the rectum are displayed on a monitor or eyepiece. If there are any polyps present, a biopsy can be taken for study and analysis. Here are some of the reasons your doctor may recommend a flexible sigmoidoscopy and what you can expect.  

What does a sigmoidoscopy test for?

A sigmoidoscopy is one way to test for colon or rectal cancers. It can also show other potential abnormalities in the colon that are causing a patient pain, such as a bleeding ulcer, cysts or polyps. There can be an obstruction that will be visible via the camera on the sigmoidoscope. Because it is just 20 inches long, the test only reaches the lower third of the colon, called the sigmoid colon. A sigmoidoscopy is often the first line of testing. Any polyps your doctor finds may be removed and sent for biopsy to determine if they are cancerous or precancerous.

What happens in a sigmoidoscopy?

Most people are familiar with the procedures and preparation necessary for a colonoscopy, which involve drinking a prescriptive liquid to empty out the content of the digestive tract, going to a hospital or outpatient center, being under anesthesia, and needing time to wake up; as well as someone to help you get home. A sigmoidoscopy does not require anesthesia, although your doctor may give you something to relieve anxiety prior to the procedure.

Your colon does need to be cleared out of food and waste, so you will consume only liquids the day prior to your sigmoidoscopy. Your doctor will either prescribe laxatives or you will be given an enema. The test takes around 15-20 minutes and is not painful, but most people describe it as uncomfortable. If there are any polyps discovered, your doctor will probably recommend a colonoscopy to examine the entire colon. Polyps in the sigmoid colon make it more likely that there are more in the portion not accessible to the sigmoidoscope.

Who should have a sigmoidoscopy?

Although a powerful diagnostic tool for colon cancer, sigmoidoscopy also provides valuable insights when diagnosing other conditions present in the lower colon. If you have no family history of colon cancer, or if you had a colonoscopy with no problems within the past 10 years, a sigmoidoscopy may be the best screening method for you. For people over 50, it is recommended to have a colonoscopy every 10 years, and a sigmoidoscopy every five years.

Why get screened?

Colorectal cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the U.S. Men and women have more than 4% chance of developing colorectal cancer during their lifetimes. Because of its prevalence and advances in diagnostic technology, screenings are regularly recommended in most patients over 50.

Getting your screenings done by an experienced and professional gastroenterology team can save your life. For patients in Maryland, Anne Arundel Gastroenterology Associates is here to help, with offices located in Annapolis, Pasadena, Bowie, and Kent Island, Maryland. Call (410) 224-2116 for an appointment with one of our board-certified gastroenterologists.