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What is a Sigmoidoscopy? PDF Print E-mail

A sigmoidoscope is a long flexible tube that is about the thickness of a finger. It is inserted through the rectum into the large intestine (colon) and allows the physician to carefully examine the lining of the colon. The procedure is commonly performed to screen for colon cancer or precancerous lesions called polyps. It also is useful in evaluating causes of diarrhea, abnormal bowel movements and bleeding. Abnormalities suspected by X-ray can be confirmed (or refuted) and studied in detail. Abnormalities which are too small to be seen on X-ray may also be identified. If the doctor sees a suspicious area or needs to evaluate an area of inflammation in greater detail, he can pass an instrument through the scope and take a small piece of tissue (a biopsy) for examination in the laboratory by a pathologist. If your doctor feels that removal of a polyp is indicated, he will discuss scheduling another procedure called a colonoscopy at another time.

Polyps are usually removed because they can cause rectal bleeding or contain cancer. Although the majority of polyps are noncancerous (benign), a small percentage may contain an area of cancer in them or may develop into cancer. Removal of colon polyps, therefore, is an important means of prevention of colon cancer, which is a leading form of cancer in the United States.

For the best possible examination, the colon must be completely empty of waste material. This is best accomplished by following a clear liquid diet and taking two Fleet enemas prior to the procedure.

Please review the Preparing for your Sigmoidoscopy for instructions.

If you have a heart condition in which you ordinarily take antibiotics before having dental work or surgeries, have kidney failure, or you are on blood thinning medication, notify your doctor. Notify your doctor of any significant medical illnesses.

The procedure is performed without the need for medication. While you are lying in a comfortable position on your left side, a rectal examination is performed, mainly to lubricate the anal canal. The sigmoidoscope is then inserted into the rectum and gradually advanced up the left side of the colon while the lining is examined thoroughly. The sigmoidoscope is then slowly withdrawn while the intestine is again carefully examined. The procedure is usually well tolerated taking only a few minutes to perform. Any discomfort is usually momentary. Cramping and the need to expel gas are usually tolerable for the short period of the procedure.You may feel bloated for a few minutes afterwards. You will be able to resume your diet after the procedure unless otherwise instructed.


Sigmoidoscopy and biopsy are safe and are associated with very low risk when performed by physicians who have been specially trained and are experienced in these procedures. Even in experienced hands, however, polyps and cancers may not be visualized and complications may occur. One possible complication is perforation in which a tear through the wall of the bowel may allow leakage of intestinal fluids. Pain after the procedure might indicate this complication and should be reported. This complication may require surgery but may be managed with antibiotics and intravenous fluids in selected cases. Bleeding may occur from the site of biopsy or polyp removal. It is usually minor and stops on its own although may require further procedures in order to control bleeding. If a complication or question of one develops, contact the office immediately.

If you develop pain, fever, bleeding or new symptoms following the procedure, please notify our office(585) 385-9775 immediately.