New, easier kits, test for Bowel Cancer

New, easier kits, test for Bowel Cancer

April 2016 | Dr Marc Smith

BOWEL CANCER is a common illness which affects the large intestine. If diagnosed early it is curable, but if the diagnosis is delayed, the disease can cause severe morbidity or death.

More than fourteen thousand people are diagnosed each year and of these, a thousand are under the age of 50. It is equally spread between the sexes. The incidence increases with advancing age and it is the second most common cause of deaths from cancer, being responsible for more deaths than either breast or prostate cancer. The illness is more common in Tasmanians than in any other state as are many other diseases. Early diagnosis and treatment can be curative. The diagnosis depends on finding small amounts of blood in the bowel motion.

Bowel cancers bleed only a little in the beginning, and early diagnosis depends on the finding of blood in the early stages, where this can be detected with sensitive chemical testing, but if diagnosis is delayed until rectal bleeding is obvious, the cancer will be far more advanced and treatment more difficult.

Once the tumour eats through the bowel wall, it may spread to other organs and treatment could involve radiation and chemotherapy.

Symptoms of bowel cancer may be blood in the motion, changing bowel habit for example intermittent constipation and diarrhoea, and mucus discharge or leakage. Abdominal pain or discomfort and symptoms of anaemia may occur, causing tiredness or weight loss.

A family history of bowel cancer is important, especially affecting the under forties who may have an inherited cause, which increases the likelihood of the condition.

This year, we have a more acceptable test kit which is easier to use and more reliable in that there will be fewer false results. In earlier kits, it was necessary to exclude certain foods before the test and now this no longer applies. Also, formally, it was necessary to handle faeces which put many people off. Only about half of the kits purchased ended up being tested.

Only two samples are needed compared with the previous three. On completion, the test is posted directly to the pathology laboratory, who will contact the patient directly and their doctor, if that is requested.

If the test is positive, in that blood is present, it must be followed by a GP visit to exclude benign causes such as piles, irritable bowel syndrome or other lesions. Perhaps an X-ray or colonoscopy will be needed.

Buy a BOWELSCAN kit from your pharmacy and USE it. So long as it remains in the packet it will not diagnose anything. It could save your life.

Kits are available in May, which is Rotary Bowelscan month throughout Australia. Tests should be done once every two years, or more often if symptoms are present.