Can a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy Detect Cancer? Understanding Your Options

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Early detection of colorectal cancer is crucial for successful treatment and a better survival rate. One of the screening options is flexible sigmoidoscopy. In this article, we will explain what flexible sigmoidoscopy is, how it is performed, and whether it can detect colorectal cancer. Additionally, we will discuss how to prepare for the procedure and the potential risks and complications associated with it.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide, with over 1.9 million new cases diagnosed in 2020. However, early detection through screening tests can significantly improve survival rates and the patient’s quality of life. Flexible sigmoidoscopy is one of the tools used in the early detection of colorectal cancer and can be an important procedure in the prevention and treatment of this disease.

It is important to note that flexible sigmoidoscopy is an endoscopic procedure that uses a thin, flexible tube with a camera at the end to examine the colon and rectum. During sigmoidoscopy, polyps and other abnormalities that may indicate the presence of colorectal cancer can be detected. If any suspicious polyps or growths are found, tissue samples can be taken for biopsy to determine if it is cancerous. Flexible sigmoidoscopy can also help detect other problems, such as inflammation of the colon or ulcers.

Can a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy Detect Cancer Understanding Your Options
Endoscopy at the hospital. Doctor holding endoscope before gastroscopy. Instrument for endoscopy in the doctor’s hands.

What is flexible sigmoidoscopy and how is it performed?

A medical procedure called flexible sigmoidoscopy is used to look at the colon and rectum. During flexible sigmoidoscopy, a thin, flexible tube with a camera at the end is inserted into the patient’s anus, as previously mentioned. The tube is guided up the colon, and the internal wall of the colon can be observed on a screen by medical staff.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy is performed in a medical office or hospital and usually takes between 10 and 20 minutes. For the procedure, the patient lies on their left side and is given a mild sedative to help them relax and minimize pain or discomfort. During the procedure, abnormal tissue biopsies can be taken for further analysis.

Unlike a full colonoscopy, which examines the entire colon, flexible sigmoidoscopy only examines the rectum and lower part of the colon. However, this procedure remains an important tool in the early detection of colorectal cancer.

Can flexible sigmoidoscopy detect colon or rectal cancer?

Flexible sigmoidoscopy can detect polyps, which are abnormal growths on the wall of the colon or rectum that can develop into colorectal cancer if left untreated. Polyps detected during flexible sigmoidoscopy can be removed through a procedure called polypectomy, which helps prevent the development of cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, flexible sigmoidoscopy is recommended every 5 years starting at age 50 for early detection of colorectal cancer. However, in some cases, a full colonoscopy may be recommended for a more thorough evaluation of the colon and rectum.

In terms of effectiveness, flexible sigmoidoscopy has been shown to reduce mortality from colorectal cancer by approximately 60%. However, the effectiveness of flexible sigmoidoscopy in detecting colorectal cancer may depend on various factors, such as the size and location of the tumor, the quality of the exam, and the physician’s experience.

Preparing for the Procedure

Before the flexible sigmoidoscopy, the patient must follow some instructions to prepare properly. This may include changing their diet, taking medication, and performing an intestinal cleanse.

A special diet may be required in the days leading up to the procedure. The patient may need to avoid solid foods and only consume clear liquids, such as broth, gelatin, and clear beverages. This will help clean the colon and facilitate visualization during the flexible sigmoidoscopy.

In addition, a laxative may be required to help clean the colon before the procedure. Enemas may also be recommended to clean the rectum.

The patient should inform the doctor of all medications they are taking, including over-the-counter and prescription drugs. It may be necessary to adjust the dosage or suspend some medications before the procedure.

Risks and Complications

As with any medical procedure, flexible sigmoidoscopy carries some risks and complications. Some possible side effects may include rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, colon perforation, and adverse reactions to sedatives used during the procedure.

Mild rectal bleeding is common after a flexible sigmoidoscopy and may last several days. If the patient experiences severe bleeding or severe abdominal pain after the procedure, they should contact their doctor immediately.

Colon perforation is a rare but serious complication of flexible sigmoidoscopy. While uncommon, it can occur when the endoscope damages the colon during the procedure. Symptoms of colon perforation may include severe abdominal pain, fever, and signs of shock. If the patient experiences any of these symptoms after flexible sigmoidoscopy, they should seek medical attention immediately.

Overall, flexible sigmoidoscopy is a safe and effective procedure for early detection of colorectal cancer. However, it is important for patients to prepare properly before the procedure and be aware of the possible risks and complications.

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