What is Bowel Cancer?
Bowel cancer is one of New Zealand’s most common cancers and the second highest cause of cancer death. About 3000 New Zealanders are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year and more than 1200 die from it.
Tests used to confirm a diagnosis of colorectal cancer include:
- CT colonograph – a specialized CT scan that evaluates the colon
- biopsy – a small piece of tissue is removed for examination under a microscope.
The choice of treatment depends on your overall health as well as how far advanced the cancer is. This is determined in a process known as ‘staging’ in which the tumour size, lymph node involvement and spread to other organs is assessed.
The three main forms of treatment for colorectal cancer are:
Surgery – is the main treatment for bowel cancer. This may be done laparoscopically (keyhole surgery) or with open surgery. In each case the same operation is done; the section of the colon or rectum with the cancer is removed and the two ends are reconnected. In some cases, a temporary ileostomy may be required.
Chemotherapy – anticancer medicines, either taken by mouth (oral) or injected into a vein (intravenous), can destroy cancer cells and slow tumour growth. Chemotherapy is useful to treat cancers that have spread to other parts of the body and may also be used before or after surgery or in combination with radiation therapy.
Radiation Therapy – high energy x-rays are used to destroy cancer cells or shrink tumours. It is often used together with surgery, in some cases to shrink the tumour before surgery, or to destroy any cells that may be left behind after surgery.
Bowel cancer screening – Bowel screening can detect cancer at an early stage when it can be more easily treated and often cured.
In New Zealand the National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP) will commence in selected centres from 2017. The eligible age range for the NBSP will be 60 to 74 years.
The screening is test is called the immunohistochemical faecal occult blood test (iFOBT). This is a test for non-visible blood in stools. The pilot program in Waitemata included patients aged 50-74 years old. 20% of the patients with cancers were aged 50-60 years. For this reason, we will discuss the role of screening in younger patients when appropriate.
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