Bowel Cancer Screening
Bowel cancer – possible symptoms
The large bowel is the lower part of the digestive system that is also called the colon. Unfortunately it is the commonest site of cancer in the digestive system and is the 3rd most common cancer on the UK. It tends to occur in patients over the age of 60 years with 85% of bowel cancers diagnosed in patients age 60 years and over. The usual symptoms are changes in bowel habit to more frequent or looser stools or blood in the stool. Although the current advertising campaign asks patients to see their own GP or Doctor if symptoms last for 3 weeks it is relatively common to have some looser stools or some bright red bleeding that is mostly on the loo paper. The symptoms that are of more concern and usually need further investigation last for 6 weeks or have darker blood that is mixed in with stools. The other signs of possible bowel cancer are a lump in the abdomen (tummy), loosing weight without trying to or anaemia due to low iron levels. Your own doctor is very well placed for assessing which symptoms may be serious and making a referral to see a specialist when indicated.
Other factors that can increase the risk of bowel cancer are a family history of bowel cancer in a brother, sister, mother or father at a younger age. A previous history of colitis or colonic polyps can also lead to an increased risk. In a number of studies diets low in fruit but high in processed meats are associated with a higher risk of colon cancer. It is also known that a high alcohol weekly intake and patients who are overweight have a higher chance of developing bowel cancer.
What is Bowel Cancer Screening?
Screening for bowel cancer is now established in Herefordshire and Worcestershire as part of the national Bowel Cancer Screening Programme. It is based on patients who have no apparent symptoms of bowel cancer between the ages 60 and 75 years having their stools analysed for very small traces on blood (faecal occult blood samples). About 2% of these patients have a positive result and these patients are offered a colonoscopy (telescope test of the colon) as part of the screening programme.
Accredited Bowel Cancer Screening colonoscopist
Dr Rupert Ransford is the accredited bowel cancer screening colonoscopist for Herefordshire in this programme and undertakes these procedures at the NHS County Hospital. He also performs colonoscopy tests for patients with symptoms of possible bowel cancer at the Nuffield Hospital after referral from their own General Practitioners.
Success of early detection
At colonoscopy any small growths called polyps are looked for and can often be removed through the telescope. It is know that removing these polyps then reduces that risk of developing bowel cancer in the future. We also know that any colon cancers diagnosed at an early stage have a much higher chance of being completely removed and therefore cured. Therefore we encourage patients to see their own Doctor if they are concerned about their symptoms as earlier diagnosis leads to a better outcome.
Flexible Sigmoidoscopy Screening
Following the success of screening for bowel cancer examining for small amounts of blood in the stool and proceeding to colonoscopy, a UK study researched into a direct look into the lower part of bowel using a shorter telescope (Flexible sigmoidoscopy). They investigated a slightly younger age group of 55 to 64 years old and removed any small growths (polyps) they found or were able to diagnose colon cancer when present at a much earlier stage. Overall they showed that by using this technique that the incidence of colorectal cancer was successfully reduced by 23%. These results have lead the NHS to propose the introduction of flexible sigmoidoscopy screening at the age of 55 years on a national basis. This screening programme is still in its pilot stage and is not yet nationally available. However the evidence of benefit is clear and Hereford Gastro would be pleased to arrange consultations to discuss screening at the Nuffield Hospital. Most healthcare insurance companies would still require a referral from the patient’s General Practitioner and we can also see other patients directly.
Mass Screening Plan (from Hereford Times)
Mass screening for bowel cancer could start in the county soon... Dr Rupert Ransford, from Hereford County Hospital and consultant Stephen Lake from Worcestershire, who are leading the local team, say they are confident screening can start safely in the next three or four months... Read more
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