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Bowel cancer screening

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About bowel cancer screening

Bowel cancer screening is carried out to detect signs of bowel cancer. It can also reveal the presence of polyps, which are non-cancerous growths on the lining of your bowel. 

Bowel cancer screening is usually carried out with a procedure called flexible sigmoidoscopy. Flexible sigmoidoscopy involves inserting a sigmoidoscope – a fibreoptic tube with a lens or camera on the end – through your anus. Your doctor will be able to examine the lining of your rectum (the area of colon near your anus) and the sigmoid colon (the last third of your colon) on a screen.

Your doctor may recommend flexible sigmoidoscopy if you have developed changes to your bowel habits or if you are experiencing rectal bleeding.

How can I prepare for bowel cancer screening?

Before the examination, talk to your doctor and ask him or her to explain the procedure. You should also ensure that you tell your doctor about any medications that you're taking.

Your doctor will usually ask you to not eat the day before your examination. Instead, stick to a clear liquid diet. This includes water, milk-free coffee or tea, broth, clear sodas, sports drinks or strained fruit juice.Sometimes, you may be asked to follow this diet for up to three days before your procedure.

The night before your sigmoidoscopy, your doctor may ask you to take a laxative to loosen your stools. 

Although it isn't usually needed, your doctor may offer you a sedative to help you stay relax throughout the examination. If you are having a sedative, you should arrange for a friend or family member to help you home, as you will not be able to drive yourself. 

What happens during my treatment?

Sometimes you will need to have one or more enemas on the morning of the examination. This involves passing water through a pipe in your anus and then draining it out. This helps to clear the bowel and aid the examination.

When it comes to the procedure, your doctor will first inject you with a sedative if you are having one. You will then be asked to lie on your left side.Your doctor will carefully insert a lubricated sigmoidoscope through the anus. He or she will then gently guide it through the rectum and into the sigmoid colon.

As your doctor guides the sigmoidoscope, he or she will watch the screen to look for any problems in the lining of your bowel. Your doctor may occasionally ask you to shift your position in order to get a better viewing angle.

If your doctor seems a problem, he or she can take a tissue sample by using instruments that pass through the sigmoidoscope. If your doctor sees any polyps, he or she may also remove them.

When your doctor has examined up to the end of the sigmoid colon, he or she will withdraw the sigmoidoscope. The examination usually takes around 20 minutes.

Are there any complications or risks with bowel cancer screening?

Like any procedure, bowel cancer screening carries some risk of complications. It is possible that the lining of your bowel becomes punctured, but this is rare. Infections and bleeding can occur, but they are also uncommon.

If you do experience any pain, bleeding or fever following your examination, tell your doctor immediately.

Recovering from bowel cancer screening

You will be able to leave the hospital on the day of your bowel cancer screening. You might experience bloating or cramps in your abdomen for about an hour after the examination.

How much does bowel cancer screening cost?

For a guide to what you could pay for your treatment, click here.

What to do now

Once you have decided that you would like to be treated at an HCA hospital, or would like further information, here's what to do next:

  1. Call one of our advisors on + 44 (0) 20 7079 4399 or complete our web enquiry form.
  2. Check with your insurance company that your policy covers your treatment, and obtain authorisation.
  3. Visit or call your GP to obtain a referral letter and then call us to make an appointment to visit your chosen consultant and hospital at a time to suit you.
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