A flexible sigmoidoscopy is a procedure that is used to look inside the rectum (back passage) and lower part of the large bowel.

What happens?

A flexible sigmoidoscopy is performed in an endoscopy clinic and you don’t usually need to have an anaesthetic.  A sedative relieves anxiety and helps you to relax.

The sigmoidoscope is inserted into your rectum and then up into your bowel. The camera relays images to a monitor. This allows the consultant to check for any abnormal areas within the rectum or bowel. Your consultant may remove polyps or take a biopsy during the procedure. This will be sent to a laboratory for testing to determine the type of cells and if these are benign (not cancerous) or cancerous.

A sigmoidoscopy is not usually painful, but can feel uncomfortable. You may also have a swollen abdomen because of the air that was pumped into your bowel. This usually gets better after an hour or so. Most people go home after the examination has been completed.

What are the risks?

• Flexible sigmoidoscopy and biopsy is a safe procedure, but there is a very small chance (less than 1 in 1,000) of damaging (perforating) the bowel during the test.
• Some bleeding may occur afterwards. This is most likely if you have had polyps removed or a biopsy taken. This usually stops on its own within a few days.
• Sedatives can occasionally cause problems with your breathing, blood pressure and heart rate. You will be monitored while you’re under sedation and during your recovery.
• It’s possible that your procedure might not be completed successfully and may need to be done again.

Be sure to ask your surgeon how any risks might apply to you.