Bowel cancer is a treatable disease if it is diagnosed early and screening is one of the best ways of catching it early. According to Cancer Research UK, screening produces the highest number of early stage diagnoses for bowel cancer.
High survival rates with early diagnosis
Nine out of 10 people who are diagnosed with bowel cancer at its earliest stage will survive for five years or more, compared with fewer than one in 10 who are diagnosed at the latest stage.
Screening can pick up bowel cancer early, even before there are any symptoms. If bowel cancer is detected, you will be able to undergo treatment while the cancer is at its most treatable. Ultimately this could save your life.
Yet, take-up of routine bowel cancer screening within six months of invitation fluctuates in England, and in Wales it has actually gone down. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, it continues to increase steadily.
Routine NHS screening
Routine bowel cancer screening using a faecal occult blood test (FOBT) is offered to everyone over the age of 60 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland the Faecal immunochemical test (FIT) is offered from age 50.
Both are home tests that involve sending off a stool sample in a freepost envelope for testing at a laboratory. If blood is found, you will be called for further tests, such as a colonoscopy, to investigate what may be causing the bleeding.
Private Bowel Cancer Screening | London
Rather than waiting for routine NHS screening, a growing number of people are opting for the peace of mind of private screening. The advantage of this is that you can organise a detailed screening test without having to wait and at a time and location to suit you. There are several different tests available:
A colonoscopy is used to examine your large bowel. Using a long, flexible tube called a colonoscope, which is inserted into your bottom and fed up into the bowel, the doctor can see an image of your bowel relayed onto a TV screen. The colonoscope can also be used to take biopsies, which are tissue samples that can be sent to the laboratory for testing.
Colonoscopies take around an hour. Your bowel needs to be empty for the procedure to be effective so you will be asked to eat a special diet and take a laxative to empty your bowel the day before the procedure. You will be given a sedative to help you relax during the procedure.
According to Cancer Research UK, in England and Scotland bowel cancer is currently found in 12-15% of men who have a colonoscopy following an abnormal screening result and in 8% of women.
A flexible sigmoidoscopy is used to look inside the lower part of your large bowel. It can be used to investigate symptoms of bleeding, to identify and remove polyps, and to check on existing bowel conditions.
As with a colonoscopy, the doctor will use a flexible tube to examine the inside of your bowel. Your bowel needs to be empty before the procedure so you will be given an enema beforehand, after which you will need to stop eating and drinking until after the test. Air will be gently pumped into your lower bowel to give the doctor a clearer view. You may be given a sedative to help you relax.
CT (Virtual) colonoscopy
A CT colonoscopy uses a CT scanner to produce 3D X-ray images of the large bowel and rectum and is a less invasive procedure than a colonoscopy. As with a colonoscopy you will be asked to follow a special diet beforehand and you will need to take a laxative to ensure your bowels are empty. In addition, you may be asked to take a liquid called gastrograffin immediately before the test.
During a CT colonoscopy, the doctor will insert a thin flexible tube into your bottom and pump gas into the bowel to inflate it and give a clearer view. CT scans will be taken from a range of different angles.
An MRI scan uses magnetic resonance imaging to produce detailed images of the inside of your bowel. It can be used to diagnose bowel cancer and determine what stage the cancer is at and whether it has spread to the surrounding organs.
You will be asked to lie on a flat bed which moves your whole body inside the scanner. The scanner makes loud tapping noises at certain points but you will be given earplugs or headphones to wear. The radiographer operating the scanner will sit in an adjacent room but you will be able to talk via an intercom and they will be able to see you on a monitor.
MRI scans do not expose your body to radiation which means they are safe for people who cannot normally have CT scans, such as pregnant women. They are not suitable for people with certain types of implants, such as a pacemaker.
If you are considering private bowel cancer screening, talk to us about the most suitable type of test for you.