Bowel cancer or colorectal cancer includes cancers that affect the colon and the rectum. In 2019, 16,318 new cases of this type of cancer were diagnosed in Australia, with males making up a greater portion of patients. The condition is usually diagnosed in individuals over the age of 50, as risk increases with age. For this reason regular bowel cancer screening is crucial.


This type of cancer usually stems from the development of precancerous polyps in the colon or rectum. While these types of polyps and early-stage bowel cancer don’t cause symptoms, patients who neglect to get themselves screened and treated, when necessary, are at serious risk.


This post examines bowel cancer screening procedures and general recommendations patients should follow. For further information, individuals should consult an experienced GP or gastroenterologist.


Bowel cancer screening methods


Colonoscopy

This procedure allows an examination of a patient’s rectum and colon. A flexible camera-embedded tube is inserted into the rectum, after which medical professionals examine the body for polyps or cancer. If polyps are detected, a biopsy will be removed and extracted for examination.

The removal of polyps can prevent the onset of colorectal cancer.


Sigmoidoscopy

Similar to a colonoscopy, a flexible, lighted tube is inserted through a patient’s rectum into the lower colon to check for colons and cancer. During a sigmoidoscopy, gastroenterologists cannot check the upper part of the colon, the ascending and transverse colon.


If polyps are detected during this procedure, a colonoscopy will be required to examine the entire colon.


Computed tomography

​This type of test can be described as a virtual colonoscopy, which requires the analysis of skilled radiologists for accurate results. This form of bowel cancer screening is recommended for individuals who are susceptible to the risk of anaesthesia or if the patient in question is suffering from a blockage of the colon.


Faecal occult blood test (FOBT)


The FOBT, along with the faecal immunochemical test (FIT), is used to find blood in an individual’s stool, which is usually a sign of polyps or cancer. If the test is positive and blood is detected, further investigation will be required to arrive at a diagnosis of colorectal cancer.


Polyps or cancer in the colon does not cause continuous bleeding. This means that regular stool samples need to be tested every year.


Double-contrast barium enema (DCBE)


This test is recommended for patients who are unable to undergo a colonoscopy. An enema with barium is given to the patient, which highlight the colon and rectum on X-rays.


Recommended guidelines for patients


At the age of 50, individuals are generally recommended to undertake frequent bowel cancer screening. Individuals with an average risk are those who don’t have a family history of the disease, an inherited condition such as Lynch syndrome or IBD and have not been diagnosed with bowel or colorectal cancer in the past.

Those who are at direct risk of developing this condition include:


  • Individuals with a personal history of bowel cancer and/or adenomatous polyps
  • Those with a history of chronic IBD
  • Patients with a family history of this type of cancer
  • Individuals with a family history of hereditary colorectal cancer syndromes such as FAP, Lynch Syndrome or other conditions


Regular bowel cancer screening tests have the potential to save many lives


For individuals over the age of 50 with a significant or average risk of developing this condition, bowel cancer screening can make the difference between life and death.

Those falling into these categories can consult trusted and experienced gastroenterologists for reliable testing methods and accurate results.

For more information on bowel cancer screening in Australia, Dr Suhirdan Vivekanandarajah, a leading gastroenterologist, can be consulted.

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