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Anal examination and biopsy

The specialist doctor will examine your anus and back passage (rectum). You don’t usually need an anaesthetic. But if it's painful, you can have the examination under general anaesthetic.

Your doctor will take a sample of tissue (a biopsy) from any abnormal areas.

Examining your anus

A specialist will examine your anus and the area around it. Various tests can examine the anus and rectum:

  • anoscopy - uses a thin tube called an anoscope to examine your anal canal
  • proctoscopy – uses a slightly longer tube to look into your rectum

What happens

You usually have these tests as an outpatient, so you can go home afterwards. The tests may be uncomfortable but are not normally painful so you don’t usually need an anaesthetic. But if it is painful, you can have the examination under general anaesthetic. 

You usually change into a gown before the test. You lie on your side on a bed with your knees drawn up towards your chest.

The doctor gently puts a fine tube into your back passage and some air into your bowel. The tube has a light on the end and the doctor looks for any abnormal areas.  

Your doctor might apply a liquid to the lining of the anus to help abnormal areas show up more clearly. They take a small sample of tissue (a biopsy) from any abnormal areas. They send this to the laboratory to see if there are any cancer cells.

You should be able to go home as soon as the test is over. If you have had a biopsy, you might notice a small amount of bleeding for a day or so, but this is normal.

Examination under anaesthetic (EUA)

You might have this examination under a general anaesthetic. This means you're asleep during the examination. This allows your muscles to relax and makes it easier for the specialist to examine any abnormal areas. The specialist can take tissue samples (biopsies).

You might have this test to help diagnose your anal cancer. Or to find out more about the size and position of your anal cancer (the stage).

You should be able to go home when the test is over and you’ve recovered from the general anaesthetic.

Last reviewed: 
29 Jan 2020
  • Anal cancer: ESMO-ESSO-ESTRO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up 
    R. Glynne-Jones and others
    Annals of Oncology 2014. 25 (Supplement 3)

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