The survival rate for bowel cancer in the UK varies significantly depending on the stage of diagnosis.
Therefore, the earlier this disease is detected, the higher the chance of making a full recovery and being able to continue living an independent life.
Bowel cancer screening tests are designed to detect anything unusual that is happening under the surface, through consultation, assessment and thorough testing.
If nothing is found, then you have the peace of mind that you are in good health, and you probably will be required to come back for another test in a few years time.
If there are any early signs of bowel cancer though, then treatment is typically much more successful than when detected when the disease is in the later stages of development.
There are screening tests available for detecting bowel cancer or its pre cursor, namely, benign little overgrowths of the bowel wall called polyps.
Cancer screening is the way in which doctors can apply a test to part of the population to try and pick up cancer early or detect polyps or adenomas, which could grow and turn into a cancer in the future.
A cancerous growth is one where the cells have become very disorganised and there is loss of control of how these cells divide, grow and die. They begin to spread beyond their site of origin, for example the bowel wall, and as soon as they become invasive this is what we call cancer.
Bowel cancer screening is conducted in people who have no cancer-type symptoms and who would not really know that they have small polyps or even an early cancer.
Medical studies have proven that bowel cancer screening reduces the risk of dying from bowel cancer. A number of tests are available for bowel cancer screening.
Screening tests are never urgent. Bowel cancers grow slowly and it takes many years not weeks for a small benign polyp to turn into a cancer.
Essentially, bowel cancer screening is available for anyone, however typically starts at age 50.
The most basic test for bowel cancer is stool test, either looking for blood or abnormal DNA.
In the UK the national bowel cancer screening programme has used testing for blood in the stools.
If you have blood in your stools, it doesn’t mean necessarily you have cancer, as blood can come from a small haemorrhoid, for example, or even a benign polyp.
If the stool test is positive, you need to go on and have a colonoscopy.
Sometimes instead of a colonoscopy, a ‘virtual’ colonoscopy is enough. This is a special CT scan X ray test that can pick up polyps and cancers.
It may however miss small polyps and, since it is a non-invasive test, no tissue samples can be taken, so if polyps are found you will then need a full colonoscopy.
A flexible sigmoidoscopy is one of the main procedures to test for bowel cancer. It examines the last part of the colon looking for polyps, and offers more accuracy than a virtual colonoscopy. If polyps are found you will then need a full colonoscopy.
The benefit though with a flexible sigmoidoscopy is that usually you do not need sedation, plus the risk of any serious complication, such as a perforation, is very low at around two in 10,000.
The most effective screening test for bowel cancer is a colonoscopy, as the entire colon can be assessed and any polyps removed.
A sedative is required and the risk of complication, whilst still uncommon, is increased to one in 1000 chance of a perforation.
A powerful laxative is required the day prior to the colonoscopy to clear the bowel entirely of its contents.
Whether you would be screened for bowel cancer depends on a number of factors, namely your age and family history.
For every 300 people screened this test will stop two people from getting bowel cancer, and it will save one person from dying due to this condition.
Typically patients over 50 are screened for bowel polyps which may one day lead to bowel cancer.
If you have already been diagnosed with colon cancer, have a history of this condition in the family or if you are experiencing any common symptoms then please get in touch for further advice.
Bowel cancer is most common after the age of 50. However, the NHS only offers routine bowel cancer screening, at present, for people over the age of 60.
In the next 10 years, statistics show that over 40,000 people, between the age of 50 and 60, will be diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK.
It’s therefore essential to take action. If you are over 60, ensure to complete and return the bowel cancer test kit. Currently only 60% do.
If you are under 60, consider a private consultation for your peace of mind, specifically if you have any symptoms.
There are various bowel cancer screening tests, starting from a simple stool examination leading up to an internal examination using a small and agile camera to investigate the bowel area.
Whilst symptoms can be a good indicator alone, screening tests conducted by a doctor or specialist gastroenterologist are the only way to diagnose bowel cancer.
The initial test for bowel cancer is simply a stool test. It involves sending a sample of your poo for analysis, primarily looking for blood, or unusual DNA.
If you are required to have a colonoscopy test, a small camera is inserted into the rectum to look for abnormalities.
A small amount of sedative is administered to maximise comfort and most patients experience at most some mild discomfort during the examination.
For many years patients have been coming to Dr Anton Bungay for expert advice regarding the prevention and treatment of bowel cancer, including:
Feel reassured that you are not alone and that specialist help is available.