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An endoscope is a piece of medical equipment designed to inspect internal organs, take tissue samples, and remove diseased organs through small incisions in the skin or through open orifices such as the mouth or anus. Both flexible and rigid endoscopes use fiber optic technology in order to allow a surgeon to see inside a patient's body by the use of a small, thin tube equipped with a light source and a tiny camera. A medical endoscope is also used to confirm a diagnosis when other tests may not be available or considered inappropriate for the condition.
Most commonly used for the investigation and diagnosis of cancer, the endoscope has also been modified for a number of other uses. A flexible endoscope can be used to repair damaged joints such as the knee, expose problems with the reproductive system, and convey information about the gastro-intestinal tract. Other uses include removal of the gall bladder, the examination of the bladder or colon for cancer, and it has even been used to repair medical problems of a fetus during pregnancy. An endoscope can also be outfitted with accessories that allow it to destroy small tumors or gallstones.
Access is through a very small incision or an existing orifice, so the surgery involving an endoscope is considered minimally invasive and recovery time is much shorter than surgery requiring a large incision. Patients are often seen on an outpatient basis and can usually go home the same day or within 24 hours, barring complications. Patients who require diagnostic testing with an endoscope, such as a colonoscopy, can generally return home after only a few hours.
As with all surgery or diagnostic procedures, there are risks to consider. These include reaction to the anesthetic, perforation or rupture of organs such as the stomach or colon, and infection. It is important for a patient to inform his or her doctor of any medications he or she is currently taking, any allergies he or she may have, and any medical condition for which he or she is being treated before surgery. Any or all of these factors can affect even minor surgery.
With advancing technology comes more development of the endoscope and its uses. The advancement of robotic systems has led to the development of telesurgery, where a physician can perform a surgical or diagnostic procedure on a patient from another location. Capsule endoscopy happens when a very small camera is introduced into the digestive system enclosed in a capsule to capture images unavailable by other means. The endoscope is an important and useful instrument in both diagnostic and therapeutic situations.