Types of Endoscopy

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 03/2017

Endoscopy is a procedure that allows a doctor to view the inside of a person's body. Originally, endoscopy was only used in the esophagus, stomach, and colon. Now, doctors use endoscopy to diagnose diseases of the ear, nose, throat, heart, urinary tract, joints, and abdomen.

What is an endoscope?

During an endoscopy, the doctor inserts a tool called an endoscope into a person’s body. Most endoscopes are thin tubes with a powerful light and tiny camera at the end.

There are several types of endoscopes. The length and flexibility of the endoscope depends on the part of the body the doctor needs to see. For example, an endoscope that helps a doctor examine the joints is often rigid. However, one used to view the inside of the colon is flexible.

Other tools used during an endoscopy

Typically, an endoscope has a channel through which the doctor inserts tools to collect tissue or provide treatment. These tools include:

  • Flexible forceps, a tool that looks like tongs, for taking a tissue sample

  • Biopsy forceps for removing a tissue sample or a suspicious growth

  • Cytology brush for taking cell samples

  • Suture removal forceps for removing stitches inside the body

Why you may need an endoscopy

Your doctor may recommend an endoscopy for various reasons:

To screen for and prevent cancer. For example, doctors use a type of endoscopy called a colonoscopy to screen for colorectal cancer. During a colonoscopy, your doctor may remove growths called polyps that could develop into cancer.

To diagnose a disease or find out the cause of symptoms. The type of endoscopy your doctor will recommend depends on the part of the body that needs to be examined.

To give treatment. These treatments include:

  • Surgery through small incisions in the skin, called laparoscopic surgery

  • Laser therapy, using a powerful beam of light to destroy cancer cells

  • Microwave ablation, using heat to destroy cancerous tissue

  • Surgery using an endoscope inserted into the gastrointestinal tract, called endoscopic mucosal resection or endoscopic submucosal dissection

  • Photodynamic therapy, destroying the tumor with a laser after injecting it with a light-sensitive substance

  • Medicines

Types of endoscopy

The most common types of endoscopy are listed below. Doctors performing endoscopy go through extensive training to learn these procedures. Also, they participate in continuing education to learn about new developments in technology.

Name of procedure

Name of tool

Area or organ viewed

How endoscope reaches target area

Arthroscopy

Arthroscope

Joints

Inserted through a small incision over the area to be viewed

Bronchoscopy

Bronchoscope

Trachea (windpipe) and bronchi of the lungs

Inserted through the mouth

Colonoscopy

Colonoscope

Entire length of the colon and large intestine

Inserted through the anus

Colposcopy

Colposcope

Vagina and cervix

A speculum is inserted into the vagina. The colposcope is placed at the opening of the vagina but does not enter it.

Cystoscopy

Cystoscope

Inside of the bladder

Inserted through the urethra

Esophagoscopy

Esophagoscope

Esophagus

Inserted through the mouth

Gastroscopy

Gastroscope

Stomach and duodenum (beginning of the small intestine)

Inserted through the mouth

Laparoscopy

Laparoscope

Stomach, liver, or other abdominal organ, including female reproductive organs (uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes)

Inserted through a small, surgical opening in the abdomen

Laryngoscopy

Laryngoscope

Larynx (voice box)

Inserted through the mouth

Neuroendoscopy

Neuroendoscope

Areas of the brain

Inserted through a small incision in the skull near the area to be viewed

Proctoscopy

Proctoscope

Rectum and sigmoid colon

Inserted through the anus

Sigmoidoscopy

Sigmoidoscope

Sigmoid colon (bottom part of the colon)

Inserted through the anus

Thoracoscopy

Thoracoscope

Pleura covering the lungs and structures covering the heart

Inserted through a small surgical opening in chest

Preparing for an endoscopy

Before your appointment, check with your insurance provider. Find out if the cost of the procedure is covered and if you may need to pay part of it.

Your health care team will give you detailed instructions on how to prepare before your appointment. For example, you may need to take these steps:

  • Avoid eating or drinking anything for several hours before the procedure.

  • Stop taking blood-thinning medications several days before the procedure. This reduces the risk of bleeding. Ask your doctor about which medications you can stop and for how long.

  • Take a laxative or use an enema to clean out stool from your bowels. Only certain types of endoscopy require this preparation.

What to expect during the procedure

When you arrive for your endoscopy, your health care team will ask you to sign a consent form. This form states that you understand the benefits and risks and agree to have the procedure. Talk with your doctor about any concerns you have about the endoscopy.

For most endoscopic procedures you will not need to stay in the hospital overnight.

You may receive a type of anesthesia, depending on the type of endoscopy. Anesthesia blocks the awareness of pain. The type used will determine if you are alert, drowsy, or asleep during the procedure.

Throughout the procedure, your health care team will monitor your temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate. Your doctor will review and, in some cases, record the images from the endoscope. He or she will also perform any procedures. This could include the collection of tissue for testing.   

What to expect after the procedure

After the endoscopy, you will rest in a recovery area. You may experience mild side effects. Side effects depend on the type of endoscopy. They may include a sore, dry throat, or bloating and gas.

If you received certain types of anesthesia during the procedure, you will need to have someone drive you home.

Reasons to call a doctor after an endoscopy

Problems from an endoscopy are uncommon, but they can happen. These include a hole or tear in the area being examined, bleeding, and infection.

Talk with your doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Fever

  • Vomiting

  • Chest pain

  • Abnormal stool

  • Shortness of breath

  • Severe abdominal pain or other unusual symptoms

Advances in endoscopy

New techniques continue to make endoscopy more comfortable for patients. This also makes it easier for doctors to diagnose diseases.

Virtual endoscopy. Unlike a standard endoscopy, the doctor does not insert an endoscope into the body. These tests involve computed tomography (CT) scans of thin segments of the body. A computer combines these images to create a more complete view. Researchers continue to study these and other types of virtual endoscopy:

  • Virtual colonoscopy. Patients having this test still need to follow the same bowel-cleansing preparations. And, they will need a traditional colonoscopy if polyps are found.

  • Virtual bronchoscopy

Capsule endoscopy. For this type of endoscopy, a patient swallows a small, vitamin-sized capsule with a camera. The camera captures images of the inside of the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. The images are recorded on a device that you wear for approximately 8 hours. The doctor then reviews them. Although capsule endoscopy is not new, researchers continue to make advances in it.

Related Resources

More Information

MedlinePlus: Endoscopy