Around 2,800 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in Ireland every year. According to the HSE, bowel cancer is the third most common of all cancers in men and the fourth most common of all cancers in women in Ireland.
The best way to find cancer early is with regular screenings. A colonoscopy is one of the most common screening tests for colorectal cancer.
What Is a Colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is an exam used to detect changes or abnormalities in the colon (large intestine) or rectum. You’ll be sedated so that you sleep through the whole procedure, which involves inserting a large, flexible tube through the rectum to examine the lining of your colon. In addition to looking for signs of cancer, the procedure looks for polyps, ulcers, and inflammation. Any polyps your physician sees can be removed and tested for cancer.
For many people, preparing for the test is the worst part of having a colonoscopy, but it’s also the most important. You will be given dietary instructions to follow a day or two before the procedure. The night before the procedure you will take a laxative or drink a prep solution to clear your bowels. It’s very important to follow these instructions carefully so your physician has a clear view of your colon.
Who Needs a Colonoscopy?
Everyone is at risk for colorectal cancer, and that risk increases with age. The Irish Cancer Society lists these risk factors for increasing the chance of developing cancer:
- Age:Most people who get colon cancer are over 50.
- Previous cancer:If you have had cancer before.
- Family history of bowel cancer:If a member of your immediate family (mother, father, brother, sister or child) or a number of relatives (uncle, aunt) on the same side of the family has had colon cancer, or if an immediate family member was diagnosed with colon cancer at a young age, under 45.
- Inherited bowel conditions: If you or someone in your family have or had an inherited bowel condition such as FAP and HNPCC. FAP stands for familial adenomatous polyposis; HNPCC is hereditary nonpolyposis colorectalcancer (also called Lynch syndrome).
- Other bowel conditions: If you have a history of a bowel condition such as benign polyps, ulcerative colitis,or Crohn’s disease.
- Obesity: If you are obese (overweight).
- Diet: A diet high in fat and red meat and low in fibre, fruit, and vegetables can increase your risk of bowel cancer. Drinking alcohol to excess and smoking may increase the risk for some people.
Your physician may recommend that you have a colonoscopy every 10 years until age 75. After age 75, discuss with your physician whether to continue having a colonoscopy. The life-saving benefits of a colonoscopy start to lessen after age 75.
Any screening test has a risk of false positives. This means the exam finds something that seems like cancer but isn’t. That can lead to anxiety and additional tests, such as blood tests, biopsy, or more imaging. However, the benefits of early detection outweigh the risk of false positives.
For more information, talk with your consultant and request an appointment to see a radiation oncologist at UPMC Kildare Hospital, UPMC Whitfield Hospital, UPMC Aut Even Hospital, or at Bon Secours Radiotherapy Cork in Partnership with UPMC Hillman Cancer Centre.