Why is bowel screening important?
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK. It is the cancer of the large intestine and forms in the lining of the bowel, occurring in both men and women, although more common in men. Risk of bowel cancer increases with age, with steep increases in people aged over 50.
Most cases of bowel cancer begin as small clusters of cells called polyps (non-cancerous growths) which form in the lining of the bowel. During a screening test a gastroenterologist is searching for these polyps which can usually be removed, to lower the risk of bowel cancer developing.
Survival rates are close to 100%, if the disease is spotted in the early stages. But this rate drops significantly as the disease develops. So, regular screening tests can help to prevent bowel cancer and save lives.
Gold standard in bowel screening
A variety of screening options are currently available to help prevent or identify bowel cancer in its earliest stages. Methods like flexible sigmoidoscopy, virtual colonoscopy, double contrast barium enema, and faecal occult blood tests can detect the presence of cancer cells, but a positive result means that further tests and procedures will be needed. So, these approaches are valuable but often inconclusive.
A colonoscopy is considered the gold standard in bowel cancer screening. Research has shown the superiority of a colonoscopy over other screening tests, with one bowel cancer incidence prevented for every 28 colonoscopies performed.
A thorough colonoscopy offers:
- Prevention: Your doctor can give you an “all-clear” on the day if no polyps or adenomas are found during the colonoscopy.
- Treatment: Your doctor can usually remove small polyps during the colonoscopy so they will not develop into cancer.
- Diagnosis: If your doctor finds any suspicious growths, they will take a biopsy sample and send this immediately to the lab for further testing.
Regular colonoscopies should begin at age 45 for people with an average rate of developing bowel cancer. If you have a family history of polyps or bowel cancer, then you may be advised to get your first colonoscopy at age 40 or earlier.
The frequency of screening tests will depend on the individual’s medical history and risk factors. And, once begun the screening test should be repeated from one to every ten years.
At OneWelbeck Digestive Health, our highly experienced bowel cancer specialists perform a range of procedures within comfortable settings. They can advise you on which screening methods are right for you.