A colonoscope is a thin, flexible fiber-optic instrument inserted through the anus in order to examine the colon. It is used to conduct a colonoscopy, which is a screening test that detects colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer. A colonoscope is also used to look for precancerous polyps, which are growths on the lining of the colon.
A colonoscope is the device developed for performing a colonoscopy, which allows a doctor, usually a gastroenterologist, to closely examine the inside of the entire rectum and colon. The examination is conducted to determine the presence of polyps, which can be an early sign of cancer.
The colonoscope is about a finger-width wide and has a flexible lighted tube outfitted with a tiny video camera at one end. This camera sends pictures to a television screen, while small amounts of air are pumped into the colon to keep it open and allow the doctor to see clearly.
A colonoscopy exam takes about 30 minutes. A mild sedative will be administered to assist in relaxation and allow the patient to sleep during the procedure. (It’s recommended that the patient have someone accompany him or her to the procedure to provide transportation home afterwards.) The test is usually conducted about once a decade, although that may vary depending on the recommendation of the primary physician, with the first test suggested right after age 50.
The examination is not generally considered painful, but some have more discomfort than others. The discomfort is normally from the air that is pumped into a cleaned-out colon. This air pressure could cause discomfort in the lower belly and will stop once the air leaves the colon. The preparation for a colonoscopy is often more uncomfortable than the procedure itself. Called a bowel prep, it can involve dietary restrictions, strong laxatives, and possibly enemas. The patient should plan to be home and very near a bathroom the day before the procedure in order to do the bowel prep.
Complications in the use of the colonoscope, such as bleeding or puncturing of the colon, are rare. Complications from anaesthesia, including cardiopulmonary issues such as a temporary drop in blood pressure and oxygen saturation, are generally due to overmedication and can be easily reversed. Blood clots that lead to a pulmonary embolism or deep venous thrombosis are another possible complication of anaesthesia, but are also unusual. Very rarely, the procedure will lead to more serious cardiopulmonary events such as a heart attack or stroke. Death from the procedure is extremely rare, except in critically ill patients with multiple risk factors. Also extremely rare is a coma as a result of the anaesthesia.
Regular colorectal cancer screening with a colonoscope saves lives and is one of the most reliable ways to prevent colon and rectal cancer by early detection. Detecting and removing polyps can help prevent colorectal cancer before it even starts. Most patients for whom colon cancer is discovered and treated early will be alive 5 years later and live a normal lifespan. Without the screening, the cancer can grow and spread without being treated, as the first stages do not have noticeable symptoms, and it is difficult to discover until the cancer is very advanced.
The development of the colonoscope was pioneered by Dr. William Wolff and Dr. Hiromi Shinya in 1969. The invention was considered to be an advancement over the barium enema and the flexible sigmoidoscope because it allowed for the visualization and removal of polyps from the entire large intestine. Both Wolff and Shinya advocated for the safety and the efficacy of the colonoscope over other methods and published much of the early evidence that led to the widespread adoption of the colonoscopy procedure as a way to prevent colon cancer.
For more information on purchasing new or refurbished colonoscopes, visit our colonoscopes page on the Absolute Medical Equipment website.