image of colon and bowel cancer

Bowel Cancer Screening: What you need to know

Today I wanted to talk a little about bowel cancer, in particular the risks and what the best screening may be for you. We know that many people will be diagnosed with bowel cancers and the good news is that it’s essentially a curable disease when caught early.

What Is Bowel Cancer?

Bowel cancer is a malignant growth most found in the lining of the bowel. These growths can lead to blockage and bleeding into the bowel. If not detected or treated bowel cancer can spread to other parts of the body.

Almost all bowel cancers start as a polyp, however not all polyps develop into bowel cancers. If a polyp is found and removed it can prevent the development of that polyp to a cancer. Luckily polyps can be easily removed during routine colonoscopy, a procedure where a camera is passed into the bowel to check the lining.

What Are The Risk Factors For Bowel Cancer?

  • Being aged 50 or older.
  • A history of inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
  • Previous polyps found in the bowel.
  • A strong family history of bowel cancers: either a close relative had bowel cancer under the age of 55 or more than one relative has had bowel cancer.

A recent Australian study has shows that more than one in five people with symptoms of bowel cancer have not seen a doctor to get this checked. From the website Bowel Cancer Australia the most commons symptoms of bowel cancers include:

  • A recent, persistent change in bowel habit to looser, more diarrhoea-like motions, going to the toilet more often, or needing to strain to go
  • Blood (either bright red or very dark) in the stool
  • Diarrhoea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
  • Frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness or cramps
  • Stools that are narrower than usual
  • A lump or mass in your tummy
  • Weight loss for no known reason
  • Persistent, severe abdominal pain, which has come on recently for the first time.
  • Feeling very tired
  • Vomiting
If you have noticed any of these symptoms it’s important to talk with your family doctor to discuss your symptoms.

 How Do You Screen For Bowel Cancer?

If you do not have any symptoms or risks for bowel cancer the first step for screening is to do a faecal occult blood test. This is where you stool is tested for blood; many cancers can bleed tiny amounts into the stool.

If you are in Australia and are interested, Bowel Cancer Australia can have a kit sent to you. You can learn more by clicking on this link at their website. Your family doctor will also be able to help in organising this testing for you.

If this test comes back positive the next step is to have a colonoscopy where a camera is passed into the bowel to examine the colon.

If you have any symptoms of potential bowel cancer or any risks for bowel cancer it is probably best to go straight for a colonoscopy. Again you family doctor can help in organising this testing.

The good news is that when caught early majority of bowel cancers are curable. The key is to have regular screening and to see your doctor if you notice any symptoms.

Yours in great health.

Dr George


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