Current research indicates that a five minute test examining the lining of the lower bowel, a flexible sigmoidoscopy, could potentially save thousands of lives from bowel cancer every year, hailing the procedure as the most exciting cancer development in many years.
In April 2010 The Lancet medical journal reported that in a bowel screening trial, a simple flexible sigmoidoscopy test cut deaths by 43% and the number of bowel cancers by a third.
Are you at risk?
Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK after lung cancer. Each year more than 37,500 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer ii and around 16,000 people die of the disease each year in the UK.
Experts do not know precisely what causes bowel cancer, although in most cases the cancer arises from a polyp (benign growth) in the bowel that grows and becomes malignant. Approximately 8 out of 10 bowel cancers are diagnosed in people over the age of 60. Diagnosing polyps at an earlier age could reduce the chances of developing bowel cancer.
Diet, lifestyle and family history are the three things most likely to affect a person’s chances of developing bowel cancer. Your risk of bowel cancer increases with age but it does affect younger people as well (almost 2000 people under the age of 60 died of bowel cancer in 2006).
In the early stages bowel cancer often doesn’t have any symptoms, but it is much easier to cure if it is found early, before symptoms develop, which is why screening is so important. A national screening programme to detect cancers in the over-65s has recently been implemented, but scientists say that testing a younger age group would prevent cancers developing. Introducing the new screening technology across the UK would save at least 3,000 lives a year.
The screening service
This bowel screening service is now available at BMI The Beardwood Hospital. The service is led by Consultant Surgeon Lyndon Jones, and we aim to assess anyone who is interested in being screened for bowel cancer, the third most common cancer in the UK.
A flexible sigmoidoscopy usually takes about 10 minutes and shouldn’t be painful. You won’t need a sedative for the procedure. The sigmoidoscope is a fine flexible tube containing fibre-optics, which transmits the image of the inside of your bowel to a television monitor. If necessary, your consultant will take a biopsy and/or remove any polyps you have. This is done using special instruments passed inside the sigmoidoscope and shouldn’t cause you any pain.
On the day
On arrival at the hospital you will be taken to a private room where the surgeon will ask you a series of questions regarding your medical history and establish your suitability for the procedure. Prior to the procedure a nurse will administer an enema. This is to ensure a good view of the inside of the lower bowel. You will then be taken into theatre for the procedure. Following the investigation, you will return to your room where you will be offered a drink and a light snack. Your surgeon will come and discuss the findings of the procedure with you and if no further follow up is required, discharge you. The total length of stay at the hospital is between 1–2 hours. You will be able to go home when you feel ready and resume your normal daily activities as usual. If you have had a biopsy taken or a polyp removed, the results will be available within 3–4 days. After the procedure you may have some mild ‘wind’ pain, which eases rapidly on passing the wind. If you have had a biopsy or had a polyp removed it is not uncommon to pass a small amount of blood, which usually stops on its own within 24hrs.
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