When is endoscopy used?
Endoscopes were first developed to look at parts of the body that couldn’t be seen any other way. This is still a common reason to use them, but endoscopy now has many other uses too. It’s often used in the prevention, early detection, diagnosis, staging, and treatment of cancer.
To prevent and screen for cancer
Some types of endoscopes are used to look for cancer in people who have no symptoms. For example, colonoscopy (KO-lun-AH-skuh-pee) and sigmoidoscopy (SIG-moid-AH-skuh-pee) are used to screen for colon and rectal cancer. These procedures can also help prevent cancer because they let doctors find and remove polyps (growths) that might become cancer if left alone.
To find cancer early
Endoscopy can sometimes be used to find cancer early, before it has had a chance to grow or spread.
Looking for causes of symptoms
When people go to the doctor with certain symptoms, endoscopy can sometimes be used to help find a cause. For instance:
Laryngoscopy to look at the vocal cords in people with long-term hoarseness
Upper endoscopy in people having trouble swallowing
Colonoscopy in people with anemia (low red blood cell counts) with an unknown cause
Colonoscopy in people with blood in their stool
Looking at problems found on imaging tests
Imaging tests such as x-rays and CT scans can sometimes show physical changes within the body. But these tests may only give information about the size, shape, and location of the problem. Doctors use endoscopes to see more details, like color and surface texture, when trying to find out what’s going on. Newer methods of endoscopy that include high magnification are being tested to find out whether they are more useful in detecting cancer and other abnormal cells on the inner surfaces of the body.
To diagnose and find out the stage (extent) of cancer
To get a tissue sample
Going one step further, most types of endoscopes have tools on the end that the doctor can use to take out small tissue samples. This procedure is called a biopsy (BY-op-see). Samples can be taken from suspicious areas and then looked at under a microscope or tested in other ways to see if cancer is there. A biopsy is usually the best way to find out if a growth or change is cancer or something else.
Getting a closer look
In some cases endoscopes are used to help find out how far a cancer has spread. Thoracoscopy (THOR-uh-KAHS -kuh-pee) and laparoscopy (LAP-uh-RAHS-kuh-pee) can be very useful in finding out if cancer has spread into the thorax (chest) or abdomen (belly). The surgeon can look into these places making only a small incision (cut) in the skin.