Last year, my colleagues and I published a review article in Australian Journal of General Practice about current Australian guidelines on screening patients with no symptoms of bowel cancer which happen to have a family history of bowel cancer. I have attached a copy of the article, which is available to download for free.
The key points are:
– NOT everyone with a family history of bowel cancer will need a colonoscopy
– The age of the family member especially if less than 55 and number of first degrees and second-degree relatives especially if more than three are critical in stratifying risk
-Blood testing in the stool, also known as FOBT can be used to assess your risk of bowel polyps or early cancer and thus the need for a colonoscopy. This test checks for microscopic blood in your stool.
There is a table in this paper that helps stratify you into three risk category. In each group, there is a recommended screening programme for people with a family history of bowel cancer and no bowel symptoms. I urge you all to read this and follow the recommendations. Genetics plays a crucial role in the development of bowel cancer. Apart from a healthy lifestyle such as exercise, avoiding smoking and alcohol and losing weight, screening is another way of mitigating your risk of developing cancer. If a tumour is discovered in the ‘precancer stage’ such as in the form of a polyp, it is 100% curable, and early cancer is more than 95% curable. So talk to your family and GP, assess your risk and get checked.