The physicians here at Mountain View Endoscopy Center use a variety of screening and diagnostic procedures in order to facilitate and support our patients’ well-being. One of these procedures is called a sigmoidoscopy.
Sigmoidoscopy is a medical procedure designed to get a good view of the sigmoid colon. It is different than a colonoscopy in that it only looks at what we call the sigmoid colon, or the lowest portion of the large intestine. This is the part of the colon that connects to the rectum and anus. A colonoscopy, on the other hand, is a more thorough examination because it allows us to examine the entire length of the colon.
When is a Sigmoidoscopy Performed?
There are two ways in which we use sigmoidoscopy.
First, and foremost, sigmoidoscopy can be used as a cancer screening tool. Since colorectal cancers (cancers of the colon and rectum) are the second-leading cause of death for adults in the United States, we take this very seriously. These cancers are typically very responsive to treatment when they are caught early, and that is where sigmoidoscopy comes into play.
By taking a look at the lower portion of the colon, where most colorectal cancers begin, we can see if there is any inflammation or abnormal tissue that needs to be evaluated further. The scope can also show us existing polyps and tumors, which can be removed in the moment, so they can be sent to the lab for analysis. In most cases, polyps are completely benign but proactively removing them can prevent healthy cells from turning cancerous.
In most cases, you will be referred for a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy every ten years, starting at age 50 and ending at age 85. Those who have had previous colon issues, ulcers, tumors or polyps may be referred more often, as are those with a family history that makes them more prone to colorectal cancer.
If patients opt to use sigmoidoscopy, rather than a full colonoscopy, we recommend that they also submit a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) to their general physician. The sidmoidoscopy only gives us a good view of the left side of the colon, which means unhealthy tissue could go undetected. A FOBT provides extra reassurance that tissue is healthy elsewhere throughout the entire colon.
Then, there are times where a patient’s symptoms indicate there could be a colonic issue. In these cases, your general physician may refer you to Mountain View Endoscopy Center for a diagnostic sigmoidoscopy.
Typically, patients are experiencing abnormal:
- Rectal bleeding
- Abdominal pain
- Changes in bowel habit
- Weight loss
Getting a good view of the colon can help us detect or rule out things like abnormal cells, ulcers, polyps or cancer.
What is a Sigmoidoscope?
The tool used to perform a sigmoidoscopy is a thin, flexible tube called a scope. It is equipped with lights and a camera that is connected to the monitor the doctor will use to view the interior of the colon. The scope is also equipped to blow gentle bursts of air if necessary to expand the sigmoid colon so the doctor can get a better view. If the doctor does need to remove a polyp, a tumor or abnormal cells, there is a sharp, thin, wire loop that can be used to remove the tissue.
Preparing For a Sigmoidoscopy
While the sigmoidoscopy isn’t quite as invasive as a colonoscopy, it still requires a bit of preparation. The colon must be clear of all solid and liquid waste so you’ll be asked to adhere to a “liquid diet” for two or three days leading up to the procedure. This diet consists of things like broths, soups, certain smoothies, Jell-O, electrolyte sports drinks, water, plain coffee or tea, etc. You will also want to steer clear of foods or drinks that contain red or purple dyes because these can be confused as blood in the colon and can lead to a false reading or unnecessary concern.
Your liquid diet will work to keep the colon free of more solid debris for the days leading up to the sigmoidoscopy. We will also supply you with a laxative that is taken the afternoon or evening before the procedure, as well as an enema or two that should be done within a couple of hours before the procedure. You will want to remain close to bathroom facility during this portion of the colon cleanse.
In most cases, we ask that you have someone drive you to and from your appointment as you may be given a sedative and we cannot allow you to get behind the wheel while the sedative is still in your system (roughly 6 to 8 hours or more).
During the Sigmoidoscopy
When it’s time for your sigmoidoscopy, you will undress and will be provided with a gown and a warm blanket. Once you’re ready, you will lie down on your left side and the staff will help you to get into a comfortable position. When you’re all set, the doctor will use plenty of lubrication so the scope can be inserted into the rectum without any discomfort.
The scope will be moved slowly and carefully through the sigmoid colon while the doctor reviews the images on the screen, looking for evidence of blood, inflammation, abnormal cells, polyps, ulcers, or growths.
Once the procedure is finished, you will be able to dress and rest in the recovery room while the sedation wears off a bit. The doctor will come in and let you know what he saw. If any tissue samples were removed, they will be sent to the lab for biopsy and we’ll call you with the results as soon as we get them from the lab.
Are you due for your next sigmoidoscopy? Are you have bowel or abdominal issues that might warrant a sigmoidoscopy? Contact the office here at Mountain View Endoscopy Center and we’ll get you onto our calendar. Proactive screening tools can make a tremendous difference in your well-being and longevity.