Endoscopy is a procedure that uses an endoscope to look inside the body to examine or treat organs or structures. Most endoscopes are thin, hollow tubes that have a light on the end. Some endoscopes have a small video camera that projects pictures on a computer screen. Some endoscopes are flexible and others are firm. The different endoscopes are designed for looking at a certain part of the body.

Why an endoscopy is done

An endoscopy may be done to:

  • allow the doctor to see inside organs or structures in the body
  • obtain tissue specimens for testing (called an endoscopic biopsy)
  • control bleeding or remove small tumours and other growths
  • see how far the cancer has spread (staging)
  • find out if cancer treatment is working or as part of follow-up
  • reduce or control symptoms such as to control bleeding or remove blockages

Types of endoscopies

Endoscopies are named for the organ or structure they examine or treat and include the following:

An arthroscopy is done to look at the joints.

A bronchoscopy is done to look at the trachea, bronchi and certain bronchioles.

A colonoscopy is done to look at the colon.

A colposcopy is done to look at the cervix and vagina.

A cystoscopy is done to look at the bladder and urethra.

An endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is done to look at the pancreas and bile ducts.

An esophagoscopy is done to look at the esophagus.

A gastroscopy is done to look at the esophagus, stomach and duodenum.

A hysteroscopy is done to look at the uterus.

A laparoscopy is done to look at the abdomen or pelvis.

A laryngoscopy is done to look at the voice box (larynx) and vocal cords.

A mediastinoscopy is done to look at the organs in the mediastinum (the space between the lungs) and nearby lymph nodes.

A panendoscopy is done to look at the pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box), esophagus, trachea (windpipe) and bronchi (the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs).

A proctoscopy is done to look at the rectum.

A sigmoidoscopy is done to look at the sigmoid colon (the last part of the colon) and rectum.

A thoracoscopy is done to look at the chest cavity.

How an endoscopy is done

Depending on the part of the body being examined, endoscopy may be done in a doctor’s office, clinic or hospital. A local or general anesthetic may be used.

Preparation depends on the type of procedure being done. There may be no preparation, fasting overnight or taking laxatives and having an enema. You may be given medicines to help you relax during the procedure.

Depending on the area of the body being viewed, the endoscope can be inserted either through an opening in the body such as the mouth, anus or urethra or through a small cut (incision).

Instruments can be inserted through a channel in the endoscope to remove small pieces of tissue or an entire growth.

Biopsy samples are sent to the laboratory to be examined under a microscope.

Care after the procedure depends on the type of endoscopy done.

Side effects

Serious problems from endoscopy are not common. Side effects may include:

  • pain
  • bleeding
  • infection
  • tearing of the tissue
  • allergic reaction to anesthetic or sedation

What the results mean

If a biopsy is done, the pathology report indicates the type of cells present and their characteristics, and if cells are normal, abnormal but not cancerous or cancerous.

If the examination shows cells are cancerous, they may be studied further. Other tests may be done to identify the type of tumour, see how fast the cells are growing and if cancer cells have spread to the surrounding normal tissue.

What happens if the result is abnormal

The doctor will decide whether further tests, procedures, follow-up care or additional treatment are needed.

Special considerations for children

Preparing children before a test or procedure can lower anxiety, increase cooperation and help them develop coping skills. Preparation includes explaining to children what will happen during the test, including what they will see, feel and hear.

Preparing a child for an endoscopy depends on the age and experience of the child. Find out more about helping your child cope with tests and treatments.

Expert review and references

Medical disclaimer

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