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Monday, 20 November 2017 06:08

Should I have a Colonoscopy? Featured

Should I have a Colonoscopy?

It depends…

Bowel cancer in Australia is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second most common cause of cancer death. In 2017 it is estimated there is a 1 in 11 chance an individual will be diagnosed with bowel cancer before the age of 85.  A colonoscopy is an important test in detecting bowel cancer but for most people it is not necessarily the first step.

If you have any alarm features listed below then please see your doctor as soon as possible.

  • Bleeding from the bowel
  • Abdominal pain
  • A change in the nature of your bowel habit
  • Weight loss
  • A diagnosis of anaemia

These symptoms warrant early and specific investigations to rule out bowel cancer.

The aim however, is to detect bowel cancer before any symptoms develop with a process known as screening. Some people can be identified at risk from their history and will usually be advised to have regular colonoscopies depending upon their age and circumstance. These include:

  • Those with a family history of bowel cancer or polyps particularly in a relative under the age of 55 or multiple relatives with the disease
  • Those with known genetic bowel cancer syndromes
  • People with inflammatory bowel disease
  • People who have had previous bowel polyps identified on colonoscopy

Most people do not fall into these categories and should take part in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program where after the age of 50 they will be sent a kit in the mail (“poo in the post”) to test their stool for blood. By 2020 this will be done every 2 years until the age of 74. It is not difficult to do and if everyone took part in the program it is estimated that up to 500 lives a year would be saved from a death from bowel cancer. If this test shows microscopic blood in the bowel motion then you are advised to see your doctor and usually the next step is a colonoscopy.

For more information on this subject the following link is very useful:

http://wiki.cancer.org.au/australia/Guidelines:Colorectal_cancer/Plain_English_summary

It is equally important to try to prevent bowel cancer by aiming to:

  • Stop smoking
  • Avoid a diet high in red meat or processed meats
  • Reduce alcohol consumption to safe levels
  • Maintain a health weight
  • Eat a high fibre diet
  • Increase your physical activity
  • There is some evidence that taking daily low dose aspirin for at least 2½ years between the ages of 50-70 can also reduce risk. This should be discussed with your doctor.

If you over about the age of 45, the next time you visit the doctor have a discussion about your bowel cancer risk and the need for screening. One of those 500 lives a year could be your own.