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Timothy asked...

Tags: cancer

My wife has not had a detailed health check for a long time. In the meantime her brother has been diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. She is very concerned and she is a smoker. Could you advise on where I should look for a detailed health assessment?

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The Answer

I would suggest that your first port of call should be your GP. They can talk to her about all sorts of risks – for instance, as a smoker, her risk of dying from heart disease may well be very much greater than her risk of colon cancer. Her GP can check her cholesterol, blood pressure, smear (if appropriate) etc. as well as discussing her concerns about colon cancer. Smoking may increase the risk of colon cancer, although it has a far greater impact on other cancers such as lung cancer and head and neck cancer, as well as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

If just one ‘first degree’ member of her family (parent, sibling or child) has had colon cancer, it’s unlikely to run in the family. However, if more members are affected her GP may recommend that she’s referred for a colonoscopy, in which the inside of the colon is examined with a telescopic device under sedation. You don’t say how old your wife is, but she may be eligible for the national screening test for colon cancer.

One of the best ways to detect colon cancer early is through a simple stool test, and everyone in England, Wales and parts of Northern Ireland is now invited to do this screening test every 2 years from the age of 60-69 (It’s 50-74 in Scotland). The idea of this test is to pick up blood in the stool caused by early colon cancer before symptoms develop. It simply involves taking a tiny sample of your stool and sending it off to be checked for blood that can’t be seen. About 98% of people will receive a normal result, and will be invited for screening again 2 years later. People who have an abnormal result are offered further tests, and many of those will get the all clear after this test. Sadly, fewer than half of people offered this test take up the offer, even though it’s been shown to improve survival rates by 16%.

 

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