Medical Q&As

Bowel cancer - screening?

How can I get screening for bowel cancer? There is a history of bowel cancer in my family. I've read about screening where the large intestine is checked for polyps that may be cancerous. Do I need to go to a GP and ask to be referred to a specialist? Should I ring a hospital? Which one? Is this type of thing covered by health insurance? I've no regular GP and have never been to hospital so I just don't have a clue how these things work.

Given your family history the most important examination for you to undergo is a colonoscopy. That test will enable the examining doctor to inspect the entire length of your colon and establish if any polyps are present. You should first attend a GP of your choice who can perform an initial medical assessment but to answer your real concerns a colonoscopy would be necessary. The GP would refer you to a specialist who could perform this examination for you and such testing would be covered by health insurance. The specialist would then forward the results of the test to the GP who could then co-ordinate any follow up that might be necessary. It makes good sense to have a GP whom you would attend whenever necessary in order to avoid fragmentation of care between a variety of doctors. This arrangement would also ensure that your medical records would all be centralised in the one location with a doctor whom you could access easily. The colonoscopy that I refer to involves the insertion of a special scope through the anus, which is then advanced up though the entire length of the colon so that its full extent can be inspected. If any polyps are present they can be removed during that examination. Colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure and does not require admission to hospital.