Information on bowel cancer

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Interview with Dr. Christa Maar

Bowel cancer is preventable

More than 70,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in Germany every year, making it the most common form of cancer in the country. The effects of the illness lead to 27,000 deaths a year.
Like many other types of cancer, however, bowel cancer can be prevented by various means. When bowel cancer is recognised early, the chances of recovery are over 90 percent.

How does bowel cancer develop?

We do not know exactly how bowel cancer develops. It is assumed that tumours usually develop from polyps. Polyps of the colon do not usually cause any problems, but they can bleed recognisably (blood in the stool) or in a way that is not visually noticeable. In the early stages, bowel cancer doesn’t normally produce symptoms either – the development of a tumour from a polyp (adenoma) can often take up to ten years. Initial signs of bowel cancer might be irregularities in the stools, and in the latter stages also anaemia, abdominal pain and weight loss. Early recognition is very advantageous, because when bowel cancer is diagnosed early it can even be cured.

What can you do?

A healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables and regular exercise helps with prevention. The risk of developing the disease increases with age – from the age of 45 if there is no history of the disease in the family. A genetic predisposition means that bowel cancer is often passed down from generation to generation. However, cancers affecting other organs, such as the cervix, stomach, bladder, small intestine and skin, amongst others, can likewise point to an inherited predisposition. Anyone who suspects there may be an increased risk of cancer in their family should pay particular attention to the prevention of bowel cancer from age 45 – and should seek medical advice at the least. You can find a preliminary test online at: www.krebsrisikotest.de

A colonoscopy offers the best prevention

As things currently stand, a colonoscopy is the safest way to avoid bowel cancer. This examination is provided as a service by your company health insurance fund if you have any symptoms, or as a preventative measure once you reach age 55. This preventative colonoscopy is carried out by specialist doctors (gastroenterologists). The examination is an outpatient procedure and has the advantage that corresponding precursors (polyps/adenomas) can be removed in the same procedure as the examination.

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What can your company health insurance do for you?

You have just had your 55th birthday and are therefore now eligible to have a colonoscopy for the first time! Make use of this service from your company health insurance fund and don’t wait until you have problems with your stools, intestine or belly, all of which can unfortunately be later signs of cancer (polyps). Early recognition is the key to your health.

Are there risks involved in a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy does not hurt and is a very low-risk procedure. If you prefer, you can take a sedative so you are largely unaware of the actual examination. The preparation for the colonoscopy, however, can be unpleasant. The colon needs to be clean for the examination to take place, so you will need to consume a lot of fluids as well as a rinsing solution. Talk to your GP about whether you would like to undergo this procedure as the safest means of prevention and early recognition.
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He or she will be happy to advise you. You do not need a referral and there are no procedural fees for the preventative colonoscopy.

The best stool test is an immunological test

Can’t make up your mind about a colonoscopy? That’s a shame, because this examination makes it possible to safely remove polyps, which can represent the precursors to cancer, even as the examination is taking place. If you are put off by the idea of a colonoscopy, then you should at least have a stool test. There are various tests to determine whether there is any blood in the stool. A very safe test that can be carried out at home problem-free is the immunological bowel cancer early recognition test. You can request this as a person insured by one of the participating health insurance funds. After taking the sample, send it to the laboratory for evaluation, from which you will then receive written notification of the results.

Where can I get advice?

Take the opportunity to recognise bowel cancer early on or even prevent it from developing and take advantage of a service from your company health insurance fund that is entirely free save for the required postage (€ 1.45). In general, of course, you should talk to your doctor directly about any form of intestinal disorder or blood in the stool – regardless of the methods of early recognition described.

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