Bowel cancer is treatable if it is caught early. In fact, roughly nine out of 10 people will survive for at least five years if they are diagnosed and treated while the disease is in its earliest stage. Screening for bowel cancer is the most effective way of detecting the disease in its earliest stages, sometimes before there are any obvious symptoms.
But for some people the fear of having a colonoscopy may deter them from being screened, putting them at far greater risk of dying from the disease.
As gastrointestinal doctors, we understand people’s discomfort. A colonoscopy is an invasive procedure and it can be unpleasant, but the discomfort is short-lived and as doctors we do everything we can to reassure people and put them at their ease.
If you choose not to have the procedure, the alternative can be months of worry, wondering if there is anything wrong inside your bowel. And, of course, if there is something wrong and it is not picked up, the cancer may continue to grow and spread to other parts of your body, which makes the chance of successful treatment less likely.
Understanding why a colonoscopy is an effective way of screening for bowel cancer, and what the procedure entails, may help to reassure you if you are worried.
Most bowel cancers develop from pre-cancerous growths called polyps which can grow in the colon and rectum. Not every polyp will become cancerous however during a colonoscopy any polyps that are found are removed to prevent them from, potentially, developing into bowel cancer. If they cannot be removed during the procedure, for whatever reason, a follow-up surgical procedure may be needed.
Most bowel cancers develop very slowly – normally over 10 years – so removing polyps as soon as they are detected reduces the risk of developing bowel cancer and of that cancer spreading to other organs. If this occurs it significantly reduces the chances of successful treatment.
- Before the procedure, your doctor will explain exactly what to expect and what preparation measures you need to follow.
- It is important for your bowel to be empty when the procedure is carried out to enable the doctor to get a good look at the bowel lining.
- You will be given laxatives beforehand and may be asked to follow a special diet for a day or two to cleanse your bowel.
- You may also be given an enema before your treatment and asked not to eat or drink for a few hours beforehand. This is to prevent the risk of choking if you are given a sedative to help you to relax during the procedure.
- You will be asked to lie on your side while a thin, flexible tube containing a light and a tiny camera is inserted into your rectum and fed up into your bowel. This may feel uncomfortable but will not be painful.
- The doctor will be able to see inside your bowel via a computer monitor.
- The procedure will last around 20 minutes.
If you have chosen to have a private colonoscopy screening, the utmost care will be taken to ensure your comfort before, during and after the procedure.
Any minor discomfort will be short-lived and, once the procedure has been completed we will advise you if any further treatment is needed and what to expect.
If you have any concerns about your bowel health, or are experiencing any symptoms related to bowel cancer, it is important to speak with a doctor or gastrointestinal specialist so that you can be booked in for the right diagnostic tests.
Our consultants are experienced gastroenterologists and colorectal surgeons, with roles in the NHS and as part of GI Doctors, private practice.
We have various London locations for your convenience and our consultation fees can be clearly found here.