Bowel cancer screening could save your life. It could also save the life of other people as it helps to increase our understanding of the disease and supports vital research.
Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK.
Around 42,000 people a year are diagnosed with the disease – around one in 15 men and one in 16 women.
Sadly, 16,000 people die from bowel cancer each year.
But it can be treated successfully if it is diagnosed early and this is why screening is so important.
Decembeard is a campaign ran every December, where men grow beards to raise awareness and to show support for bowel cancer research, including prevention and early diagnosis.
Benefits of bowel cancer screening
Bowel cancer screening looks for signs of the disease before any symptoms appear. At this stage, the chances of successful treatment are highest.
In fact, nearly everyone who is diagnosed in the earliest stages will survive bowel cancer and the chances of it returning within five years are small.
Most bowel cancers develop from polyps, which are non-cancerous growths that develop in the colon and rectum. Over time, these growths can become cancerous so doctors recommend removing them to prevent this from happening.
Even if they have started to become cancerous, removing cancer cells before they have spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver or lungs, increases the chance of successful treatment.
What is screening?
Some screening is routinely offered to people over the age of 60 (50 in Scotland) on the NHS. Currently, all eligible NHS patients receive a Faecal Occult Blood Test or a Faecal Immunochemical Test.
Both types of test are performed at home using a stool sample and are sent off to a laboratory for analysis. The laboratory will look for blood in your sample which may indicate that you have a polyp, or another health condition. If you have a positive test, you will be offered more tests, such as a colonoscopy, to find out what is causing the bleeding.
A colonoscopy uses a thin, flexible tube with a camera and a light on one end to look inside your bowel. The doctor will be able to see if there are any polyps and, in most instances, will be able to remove them there and then. The procedure is quick and painless and you will be able to go home once the effects of any sedative have worn off.
Private Screening for Bowel Cancer
Whatever age you are, you may choose to undergo private screening for bowel cancer. There are several advantages to this, including:
- You can choose when and where to have the test without having to wait until you reach a certain age.
- You will automatically undergo a comprehensive investigation using a colonoscope to look inside your bowel. If the doctor finds any polyps these will be removed and sent off to the laboratory for analysis.
- You will receive your results quickly and your doctor will explain any findings and recommend a course of treatment, if necessary.
- You will be treated with dignity and courtesy at all times and made as comfortable as possible.
New research is being carried out all the time to improve the treatment of bowel cancer. For example, biological therapies use targeted cancer drugs that change the way cells work. Some drugs block the signals that tell cells to grow while others boost the body’s immune system to fight off or kill cancer cells. So far, such treatments are mainly given for advanced bowel cancer either on their own or alongside chemotherapy.
In other advances, doctors are looking at looking at ways to check for cancer in the lymph nodes in cases of rectal cancer. This can help them to determine more accurately what type of surgery will be most effective.