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Consultant Laparoscopic Colorectal and General Surgeon


What is flexible sigmoidoscopy?

Flexible sigmoidoscopy is a type of endoscopy, a bit like a colonoscopy but it doesn’t examine as much of your bowel. The test is done using a flexible sigmoidoscope.

This flexible tube has a camera inside it and it is very thin, thin enough to be passed through the anus into the rectum and first part of the large bowel without causing too much discomfort.

Small instruments can be passed through a tiny channel in the scope to either remove a polyp or take a small sample (biopsy) of bowel tissue – both of these manoeuvres are pain-free.

This tissue is examined later under a microscope by a histologist to find out if there are any cancerous cells.

The UK is planning to introduce flexible sigmoidoscopy as a one-off test for people aged between 55 years and 60 years to detect more cases of bowel cancer early.

This screening program is known as Bowel Scope.

What’s it like to have a flexible sigmoidoscopy?

  • It’s not that bad – having a bowel scope examination takes about 10 minutes and it’s only mildly uncomfortable.
  • You don’t need to prepare by using a laxative the day before and you won’t need a sedative. This is not as extensive as a colonoscopy.
  • You will have an enema just before, emptying the lower bowel, and then lie on a couch on your side. The flexible sigmoidoscope is inserted through the anus and into the rectum and the lower part of the large bowel.
  • Some air is usually passed into the bowel to make the test easier and to produce clearer images of the wall of the large bowel. A sample may be taken but this will not cause you any pain.
  • These bowel scope appointments are often scheduled in the evening to fit in around your work and you can drive there and home.

Mr Jonathan Wilson, Colorectal Surgeon

If you have symptoms, such as passing blood when you open your bowels, the scope test should show what is causing that so it’s worth the minor discomfort and time to have it done.

It may be that you have internal haemorrhoids or a polyp or polyps that need to be treated.

It may detect early-stage cancer that can then be treated early, giving you the best chance of having it cured by surgery and follow up treatment.