Flexible Sigmoidoscopy & Procedure Instructions

Flexible sigmoidoscopy is an endoscopic technique for visually inspecting the lower third of the colon and rectum with the use of a flexible tube with a light on the end. The examination is usually performed when visualization of the whole colon is not required. Examples include the evaluation of rectal bleeding, checking the status of an established patient with inflammatory bowel disease, or an abnormality seen on barium enema/CAT scan. Although flexible sigmoidoscopy was previously used as a tool for colon cancer screening, a full examination of the colon with a colonoscopy is now preferred and recommended.

Because a 2-foot-long mechanical instrument is being inserted into the bowel, there is a risk of lacerating or perforating the bowel wall during this procedure. The estimated risk of this happening is 1 in 1,000 cases. Perforation of the bowel wall is a serious complication that requires surgical attention.

Alternatives to flexible sigmoidoscopy include a barium enema, which is an X-ray study of the colon. However, if the barium enema is abnormal, this usually leads to a follow-up examination with a flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. Of note, biopsies and polyp removal cannot be performed during a barium enema.

Note: The information in this section is provided as a supplement to information discussed with your healthcare provider. It is not intended to serve as a complete description of a particular topic or substitute for a clinic visit.