Endoscopic Exam for Cancer

How is cancer diagnosed?

There is no single test that can accurately diagnose cancer. It usually needs a thorough history and physical exam along with diagnostic testing. Many tests are needed to find out if a person has cancer, or if another condition (such as an infection) is mimicking the symptoms of cancer. Effective diagnostic testing is used to confirm or eliminate the presence of disease, monitor the disease process, and plan for and evaluate the effectiveness of treatment. In some cases, repeat testing is needed when your condition has changed. Repeat testing is also needed if a sample collected was not of good quality, or an abnormal test result needs to be confirmed. Diagnostic procedures for cancer may include imaging, lab tests (including tests for tumor markers), tumor biopsy, endoscopic exam, surgery, or genetic testing.

What are some of the different types of endoscopic exams?

An endoscope is a small, flexible tube with a light and a lens or tiny video camera on the end. It is used to look into the esophagus, stomach, duodenum, colon, rectum, or other organs. It can also be used to take tissue from the body for testing. Or it can be used to take color photos of the inside of the body. Several types of endoscopes are described below:

  • Colonoscopy. This procedure allows the healthcare provider to see the entire length of the large intestine (colon). It can often help identify abnormal growths, inflamed tissue, ulcers, and bleeding. A long, flexible, lighted tube called a colonoscope is inserted in through the rectum up into the colon. The colonoscope lets the healthcare provider see the lining of the colon, remove tissue for further exam, and possibly treat some problems that are discovered.

Illustration demonstrating a colonoscopy

  • ERCP (Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography). An ERCP allows the healthcare provider to diagnose and treat problems in the liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, and pancreas. The procedure combines X-ray and the use of an endoscope. This is a long, flexible, lighted tube. The scope is guided through the person's mouth and throat, then through the esophagus, stomach, and the first part of the small intestine (the duodenum). The healthcare provider can check the inside of these organs and find any abnormalities. A tube is then passed through the scope and a dye is injected into the pancreatic duct. This allows the internal organs to be evaluated using X-rays. This will allow the internal organs to appear on an X-ray.

  • EGD or upper endoscopy (esophagogastroduodenoscopy). This procedure allows the healthcare provider to examine the inside of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. A thin, flexible, lighted tube (endoscope), is guided into the mouth and throat. It then goes into the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. The endoscope lets the healthcare provider to see the inside of this part of the body. The provider can also insert tiny tools through the scope to remove a tissue sample for biopsy, if needed.

Illustration of an esophagogastroduodenoscopy procedure

  • Sigmoidoscopy. This diagnostic procedure lets the healthcare provider examine the inside of a part of the large intestine. It can be helpful in identifying the causes of diarrhea, stomach pain, constipation, abnormal growths, and bleeding. This procedure uses a short, flexible, lighted tube called a sigmoidoscope. It is inserted into the intestine through the rectum. The scope blows air into the intestine to inflate it and make viewing the inside easier.

  • Bronchoscopy. This diagnostic procedure allows the healthcare provider to examine the inside of the windpipe (trachea) and large airways leading into the lungs (bronchi). A short, flexible, lighted tube, called a bronchoscope, is inserted through the mouth or nose. Tissue samples may be removed through the bronchoscope for exam under a microscope in the lab.

  • Cystoscopy. For this exam, a flexible tube and viewing device (cystoscope), is inserted through the urethra. It is used to check the bladder and urinary tract for structural abnormalities or blockages, such as tumors or stones. Samples of the bladder tissue may be removed through the cystoscope for exam under a microscope in the lab.

  • Laryngoscopy. An exam that allows your healthcare provider to use a laryngoscope to see the back of your throat, voice box, and vocal cords.