Endoscopy involves the use of flexible tubes, known as endoscopes, to provide a close-up, color television view of the inside of the digestive tract. Upper endoscopes are passed through the mouth to visualize the esophagus (food pipe), stomach, and duodenum (first portion of the small intestine), while lower endoscopes (colonoscopes) are passed through the rectum to view the colon or large intestine. Other special endoscopes allow physicians to view portions of the pancreas, liver and gallbladder as well.
Endoscopy has been a major advance in the treatment of gastrointestinal diseases. For example, the use of endoscopes allows the detection of ulcers, cancers, polyps and
sites of internal bleeding. Through endoscopy, tissue samples (biopsies) may be obtained, areas of blockage can be opened, and active bleeding can be stopped. Polyps in the colon can be removed, which has been shown to prevent colon cancer.
Endoscopy is easily carried out on an outpatient basis and is very well tolerated by patients. The technique of endoscopy is extremely safe, with very low rates of complications, when performed by a properly trained endoscopist, such as members of the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE).