Colon cancer, also known as bowel cancer or rectal cancer, is the 4th most common cancer in the UK among men and women with about 42,900 new bowel cancer cases each year. Colon cancer is the 2nd most common cause of cancer death with about 16,600 deaths per year (Cancer Research UK, 2022). Most people diagnosed with it are over the age of 60.
Colon cancer screening is the process of looking for cancer or pre-cancer in people who are showing no symptoms of this disease. Regular cancer screening is one of the most powerful tools that we have at our disposal against colon cancer.
According to Cancer Research UK, in the UK 54% of colon cancer cases can be prevented if early diagnosis is introduced. The screening will often aid in finding colon cancer early when it is small or has not spread and is therefore easy to treat. A polyp can take 10-15 years to manifest into cancer – with regular screening doctors would be able to remove polyps before they have a chance to become a serious issue (ACS, 2020).
What are the risk factors associated with colon cancer?
Increasing age is the most important risk factor associated with most cancers, including colon cancer. Other factors include the following:
- Family history (Johns & Houlston, 2001)
- Hereditary conditions (Mork et al., 2015)
- Other diseases like Crohn’s disease
- Excessive use of alcohol (Fedirko et al., 2011)
- Smoking (Liang et al., 2009)
- Weight issues
Unfortunately, while the risk can be elevated due to those factors, in the US 75% of all colon cancers develop among those without risk factors other than the country of birth and age (50+) (Winawer et al., 1997).
Colon cancer usually forms from a collection of benign cells (polyp), and while most of these will not become malignant – cancerous – they can slowly develop and turn into cancer over 10-15 years as mentioned earlier. While that period sounds very slow, colon cancer is still a serious disease that warrants quick medical reactions and perhaps treatment to give you the best chance of staying healthy (MOFFIT Cancer Center, 2022).
As a result, if you notice any of the following 3 key symptoms for 3 or more weeks, speak to your doctor as soon as you can (NHS, 2021):
- Persistent blood in your faeces
- Persistent change in your bowel habits
- Persistent lower abdominal pain, bloating or discomfort
Can early screening eradicate colon cancer?
In a word, no.
Colon cancer cannot be ‘eradicated’ because it is not a viral disease like smallpox which was eradicated in the 1980s (WHO, 2022). To that end, you cannot eradicate any disease that you cannot vaccinate against to get ‘herd immunity.’
However, through regular screening, you can get reassurance that your risk of developing colon cancer is minimal as any polyps that could potentially turn cancerous are removed before they have the chance to do so.
Due to the frequency of this disease, ability to identify high-risk groups, slow growth of polyps and better survival chances of patients with this disease, regular screening should be part of routine care for individuals aged 50 and over (NIH, 2022).
Many research studies have found that a combination of screening procedures and preventive methods would be effective in detecting and reducing colon cancer occurrence (Roncucci & Mariani, 2015).
However, there is still some dispute about the extent to which the different screening techniques can effectively prevent colon cancer death. For example, a study by Vainio & Miller (2003) found that faecal occult blood testing is only effective in preventing 20% of deaths from colon cancer. They focused on preventive methods people can employ to reduce risk which included a better diet with increased vegetable consumption, and exercise.
A few studies found that a combination of primary (diet, exercise) and secondary (screening) prevention is best to reduce colon cancer occurrence entirely. Colorectal cancer has been strongly linked with a Western lifestyle as many controllable factors such as diet and lifestyle have been connected to colon cancer, and the incidences have been higher in North America, Australia and Europe (Vainio & Miller, 2003, Chan & Giovannucci, 2010, Lopez et al., 2014).
Fortunately, even without primary prevention techniques, screening for colon cancer has quite high success rates as shown in studies by Winawer et al., 1993, Amri et. al., 2013, Doubeni et al., 2018,
All of which had the following conclusions:
“Colonoscopic polypectomy resulted in a lower-than-expected incidence of colorectal cancer. These results support the view that colorectal adenomas progress to adenocarcinomas, as well as the current practice of searching for and removing adenomatous polyps to prevent colorectal cancer.”
“Patients with colon cancer identified on screening colonoscopy not only have lower-stage disease on presentation but also have better outcomes independent of their staging. Compliance to screening colonoscopy guidelines can play an important role in prolonging longevity, improving quality of life, and reducing health care costs through early detection of colon cancer.”
“Screening colonoscopy was associated with a substantial and comparably decreased mortality risk for both right-sided and left-sided cancers within a large community-based population.”
How does a colonoscopy work?
A regular colonoscopy is performed by an experienced doctor and would last for 30-60 minutes. It is quite invasive and can be painful for some people. Medications may be provided to reduce pain and relax you to make the procedure better.
Fortunately, the days of painful and invasive colonoscopies with medicine or even anaesthesia are over. Current technological advances have proven to be very effective in finding polyps with minimal discomfort for the individual.
A virtual colonoscopy – also known as CT virtual colonoscopy – is a type of x-ray examination that looks into your intestines with plenty of detail but less discomfort. It has many benefits over a regular colonoscopy without losing the value of it (Johns Hopkins, 2022):
- It is less uncomfortable and invasive
- Takes less time – usually about 10-15 minutes
- Less risk of damaging the large intestine
- Better for people who may not be able to have a regular colonoscopy due to health problems
- Able to reach more areas than a regular colonoscopy
As a leading provider of health screenings Echelon Health are proud to be able to provide the best service to our clients with the highest level of quality and comfort.
Cancer screening with Echelon Health
Echelon Health believes that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to health, and we understand the value of early detection.
Using our vast medical experience and the best imaging technology available in the UK, we are determined to provide the most comprehensive health assessment possible. This covers cancer detection, and our Core Cancer package aims to detect cancers at their earliest stages. It can help detect not only colon cancer but also skin cancer, breast/prostate cancer and more. Here are the scans included in our Core Cancer assessment:
- Blood tests
- CT abdomen
- CT pelvis
- CT virtual colonoscopy
- MRI prostate
- Ultrasound thyroid
- Ultrasound testes/ovaries
- Digital mammogram
Our Platinum Assessment is one of the most comprehensive in the world. It can detect up to 92% and up to 95% of the causes of premature death among men and women respectively using the most advanced imaging technologies.
This package offers a full health screening; the following tests and scans are included in the platinum package:
- Blood Tests
- CT Aorta
- CT Heart
- CT Coronary Angiogram
- CT Chest
- CT Pelvis
- CT Virtual Colonoscopy
- CT Bone Density
- CT Upright Skeleton
- MRI Brain
- MRI Cerebral Artery Angiogram
- MRI Carotid Artery Angiogram
- MRI Prostate
- Ultrasound Thyroid
- Ultrasound Testes/Ovaries
- Digital Mammogram
- Full Body Mole Screen
At Echelon Health we are focused on preventive health screenings and how they can help people better understand their health and how to improve it. It is far easier to take care of yourself and maintain your health when you have complete peace of mind.
If you have any questions about other assessments that we offer or would like to make a booking, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are always happy to help answer your questions and send you further information about Echelon Health and what we can provide.
Cancer Research UK (2022). Bowel cancer statistics. Available at: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/bowel-cancer#heading-One Accessed 17/05/2022
ACS (2020). Can Colorectal Polyps and Cancer Be Found Early? Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/detection.html Accessed 17/05/2022
Johns, L. E., & Houlston, R. S. (2001). A systematic review and meta-analysis of familial colorectal cancer risk. The American journal of gastroenterology, 96(10), 2992-3003.
Mork, M. E., You, Y. N., Ying, J., Bannon, S. A., Lynch, P. M., Rodriguez-Bigas, M. A., & Vilar, E. (2015). High prevalence of hereditary cancer syndromes in adolescents and young adults with colorectal cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 33(31), 3544.
Fedirko, V., Tramacere, I., Bagnardi, V., Rota, M., Scotti, L., Islami, F., Negri, E., Straif, K., Romieu, I., La Vecchia, C. and Boffetta, P., (2011). Alcohol drinking and colorectal cancer risk: an overall and dose–response meta-analysis of published studies. Annals of oncology, 22(9), pp.1958-1972.
Liang, P. S., Chen, T. Y., & Giovannucci, E. (2009). Cigarette smoking and colorectal cancer incidence and mortality: Systematic review and meta‐analysis. International journal of cancer, 124(10), 2406-2415.
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MOFFIT Cancer Center (2022). How Long Does Colon Cancer Take to Develop. Available at: https://moffitt.org/cancers/colon-cancer/faqs/how-long-does-colon-cancer-take-to-develop/#:~:text=Colon%20cancer%2C%20or%20cancer%20that,of%20about%2010%2D15%20years Accessed 17/05/2022
WHO, (2022) Smallpox. Available at: https://www.who.int/health-topics/smallpox#tab=tab_1 Accessed 17/05/2022
NIH, (2022). Colon Cancer Treatment (PDQ) – Health Professional Version. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/colorectal/hp/colon-treatment-pdq Accessed 17/05/2022
Roncucci, L., & Mariani, F. (2015). Prevention of colorectal cancer: how many tools do we have in our basket? European journal of internal medicine, 26(10), 752-756.
Vainio, H., & Miller, A. B. (2003). Primary and secondary prevention in colorectal cancer. Acta oncologica, 42(8), 809-815.
NHS (2021). Overview Bowel cancer. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/bowel-cancer/ Accessed 17/05/2022
Chan, A. T., & Giovannucci, E. L. (2010). Primary prevention of colorectal cancer. Gastroenterology, 138(6), 2029-2043.
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Amri, R., Bordeianou, L. G., Sylla, P., & Berger, D. L. (2013). Impact of screening colonoscopy on outcomes in colon cancer surgery. JAMA Surgery, 148(8), 747-754.
Doubeni, C.A., Corley, D.A., Quinn, V.P., Jensen, C.D., Zauber, A.G., Goodman, M., Johnson, J.R., Mehta, S.J., Becerra, T.A., Zhao, W.K. and Schottinger, J., (2018). Effectiveness of screening colonoscopy in reducing the risk of death from the right and left colon cancer: a large community-based study. Gut, 67(2), pp.291-298.
López, P. J. T., Albero, J. S., & Rodríguez-Montes, J. A. (2014). Primary and secondary prevention of colorectal cancer. Clinical Medicine Insights: Gastroenterology, 7, CGast-S14039.
Johns Hopkins (2022). Virtual colonoscopy. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/colon-cancer/virtual-colonoscopy-for-cancer-screening#:~:text=Virtual%20colonoscopy%20has%20some%20benefits,any%20pain%20medicine%20or%20anesthesia. Accessed 19/05/2022