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Sigmoidoscopy is a procedure by which a doctor inserts either a short and rigid or slightly longer and flexible fiber-optic tube into the rectum to examine the lower portion of the large intestine (or bowel).
Sigmoidoscopy is used most often in screening for colorectal cancer or to determine the cause of rectal bleeding.
Cancer of the rectum and colon is the second most common cancer in the United States, and claims the lives of approximately 60, 000 people annually. As a result, cancer authorities now recommend that people over 50 be screened for colorectal cancer every three to five years. Screening at an earlier age should be done on patients who have a family history of colon or rectal cancer, or small growths in the colon (polyps).
Individuals with inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's colitis or ulcerative colitis) are at increased risk for colorectal cancer and should begin their screenings at a younger age, and be screened more frequently. Many doctors screen such patients more often than every three to five years. Those with ulcerative colitis should be screened beginning 10 years after the onset of disease; those with Crohn's colitis beginning 15 years after the onset of disease.
Some doctors prefer to do this screening with a colonoscope, which allows them to see the entire colon (certain patients, such as those with Crohn's colitis or ulcerative colitis, must be screened with a colonoscope). However, compared with sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy is a longer process, causes more discomfort, and is more costly.
Studies have indicated that about one quarter of all precancerous or small cancerous growths in the colorectal region can be seen with a rigid sigmoidoscope. The longer, flexible version, which is the primary type of sigmoidoscope used in the screening process, can detect more than half of all growths in this region. This examination is usually performed in combination with a fecal occult blood test, in an effort to increase detection of polyps and cancers that lie beyond the scope's reach.
Author Info: Jon H. Zonderman, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Cancer, 2002
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