Proctologists are surgeons who diagnose and treat disorders of the rectum, anus, and entire gastrointestinal tract.
The word “proctologist” is a bit outdated, though. These days, the preferred term is “colorectal surgeon” or “colon and rectal surgeon.”
Continue reading to learn about these highly trained specialists, the disorders they diagnose and treat, and the signs that you should see one.
Colorectal surgeons manage diseases of the intestinal tract. This tract consists of the colon, rectum, anal canal, and perianal area. Conditions of the intestinal tract include:
- Abscesses and fistulae. These are infections near the anus and rectum.
- Anal skin tags. These are small bumps of skin around the anus.
- Colon and rectal cancer. This cancer begins in the colon or rectum.
- Diverticulitis. This is a disease in which pouches form in weak spots along the digestive tract.
- Fissures. These are small tears in the anal lining.
- Hemorrhoids. These are swollen veins that can occur internally or externally around the anus.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD is a group of inflammatory disorders that includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a group of intestinal symptoms unrelated to IBD that can include bloating, cramping, constipation, and diarrhea.
- Polyps. These are precancerous growths that have the potential to become colorectal cancer.
- Rectal prolapse. This is a condition in which the rectum begins to fall from its position into the anal opening.
Colorectal surgeons can also treat sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including:
Colorectal surgeons are trained to perform a variety of diagnostic tests and surgical procedures. Their most common procedures include the following:
- Anoscopy. This procedure helps identify abnormalities in the anus and rectum.
- Colonoscopy. During a colonoscopy, the doctor examines the entire colon and screens for colorectal cancer. They may also remove polyps.
- Digital rectal exams. During this physical examination, the doctor uses their fingers to examine the lower rectum and prostate.
- Endorectal ultrasound. This is an imaging test to help diagnose colorectal cancers.
- Proctoscopy. In this procedure, the doctor examines the rectum and anus, takes tissue for biopsy, or removes polyps.
- Sigmoidoscopy. In this procedure, the doctor examines the lower third of your colon, which is called the sigmoid colon.
Colorectal surgeons are trained in a variety of surgical techniques, including laparoscopy and robotic surgery. They can also offer nonsurgical treatment for some disorders.
It may not occur to you to see a colorectal surgeon until another doctor refers you to one. But you may want to ask for a referral if you have symptoms like:
- anal itching or burning
- bleeding or other discharge from the anus
- anal or rectal pain
- anal warts, bumps, or the sensation of a foreign body
- fecal incontinence
It’s important for a colorectal surgeon to understand the full extent of all your symptoms. If they don’t know about all your symptoms, they’ll have a harder time diagnosing you and determining which types of treatments you need.
That’s why it’s so crucial to speak openly with your colorectal surgeon. Otherwise, you may go through unnecessary tests or have a delayed diagnosis and treatment. This can seriously impact your health.
Issues related to your rectum, anus, and gastrointestinal tract can be a sensitive area of discussion. But rest assured that this is what a colorectal surgeon does all day, every day.
They’re familiar with the type of symptoms that bring patients in to see them, and they’re trained to listen without judgement.
Proctology is a medical specialty that requires many years of training, which includes:
- 4 years of college for a bachelor’s degree
- 4 years of medical school
- successful completion of a 5-year training program in general surgery
- an additional year of training in colon and rectal surgery
In the United States, most colorectal surgeons are certified through the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery (ABCRS). This certification requires ongoing written and oral examinations.
Colorectal surgeons must participate in continuing education in the field of proctology. They must also be licensed in the state where they practice.
They work in private practices, clinics, and hospitals. They may have close working relationships with gastroenterologists.
To find a colorectal surgeon, start by asking for a referral from your primary care doctor or other healthcare care specialist. You can also use searchable databases, such as:
Here are some things to consider when looking for a colorectal surgeon:
- Is the doctor board certified? Board certification means they have the required education, experience, and continuing education.
- Are they licensed to practice in your state?
- Is the doctor part of your health coverage network?
- Can you set up a consultation to get to know your doctor prior to having any procedures done?
- If you’re having a particular symptom or procedure, what’s the doctor’s previous experience with this?
- Will your colorectal surgeon communicate with your other doctors?
- What are their office locations and hours?
- Where do they have hospital admitting privileges?
It’s important to feel comfortable with your colorectal surgeon. If not, you might be less inclined to discuss all your symptoms.
During your initial consultation, the colorectal surgeon should be willing to talk about their expertise. They should also give you plenty of opportunity for questions.
If they’re dismissive or you just don’t feel comfortable with their style of communication or care, you’re not locked in. You can continue your search.
The best doctor-patient relationships depend on open communication, trust, and sensitivity. And a sense of humor doesn’t hurt, either.
Proctologists are highly specialized medical doctors also known as colorectal surgeons.
They diagnose and treat conditions of the entire gastrointestinal tract. You’re most likely to see a colorectal surgeon for problems involving the anus, rectum, and colon.
If you have symptoms such as anal or rectal pain, bleeding, or bumps, talk to your doctor. A primary care physician or gastroenterologist can refer you to a colorectal surgeon for further evaluation.