Cancerous cells can lurk in the bowel for a lengthy amount of time before exhibiting any symptoms. An early detection makes it easier to treat and provides a better chance of survival. Therefore, getting screened could be the difference between life and death.
The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme has been running in England since July 2006. Men and women aged 60-75 registered with a GP will automatically be sent an invitation for screening through the post. This is a non-intrusive method which can be performed in the comfort of your home. The process is referred to as FOB (faecal occult blood). It involves collecting a sample of stool which is then sealed in a hygienic envelop which will eventually be sent off to a laboratory which will test for the presence of blood in the stool. Traces of blood in the stool could be indicative of bowel cancer. If no blood is found, a further screening will be scheduled for two years’ time. An inconclusive result will require an additional test for verification. However, if blood is found in the stool, an appointment will be scheduled for a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy involves an insertion of a thin and flexible tube with a tiny camera on the end which is passed into the anus through to the bowel.
Despite the effectiveness of the FOB, it is important to remember that;
- The FOB test is not 100% reliable, though it saves many peoples lives per year.
- An absence of blood in the faeces at the time of testing could decrease the chances of an early detection.
- Development of bowel cancer could occur between screening tests. It is therefore important to be vigilant and to not ignore symptoms.
A colonoscopy is a procedure done to examine the lining of the whole large bowel, to investigate for polyps or any growth that requires further investigation. The procedure involves a long, flexible tube (endoscope) being passed through the back passage. A bright light and tiny camera are attached to the end of the tube, allowing your specialist to get a clear view of the lining of the bowel. Samples (biopsies) or photographs may be taken during this procedure if your doctor sees anything that needs further investigation. Polyps can be removed quickly and simply during this procedure.