The Power of Prevention: Why Your First Colonoscopy Should Happen at 45

When it comes to safeguarding your health, knowledge is your most potent weapon. In Australia, bowel cancer is a formidable adversary, but it’s also a disease that can often be defeated with early detection and prevention. Globally, colorectal surgeons are urging people to consider having your first colonoscopy in Melbourne at the age of 45, or even earlier if you have a family history of bowel cancer. By delving into the statistics and understanding the rationale behind this recommendation, as well as the option of seeing a female surgeon for your procedure, you can make informed decisions about your health and potentially save your life.

Is bowel cancer a problem in Australia?

Before we dive into the specifics of why you should consider an early colonoscopy, let’s take a moment to grasp the current state of bowel cancer in Australia.

Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the country. According to the latest data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, each year there are more than 15,000 new cases of bowel cancer reported. It’s estimated that this number will continue to rise, with projections indicating that by 2040, there could be nearly 28,000 new cases each year if we don’t take proactive measures.

Moreover, bowel cancer is the third most deadly cancer in Australia, causing over 5,000 deaths in 2020. This places it just behind lung and breast cancer in terms of fatalities. These figures are a stark reminder of the significant impact bowel cancer has on individuals and their families.

The Power of Early Detection

The key to addressing the bowel cancer challenge lies in early detection and prevention. One of the most effective methods for achieving this is through colonoscopy.

A colonoscopy is a medical procedure that involves examining the inside of the colon (large intestine) and rectum using a long, flexible tube with a camera. This procedure not only helps in the diagnosis of bowel cancer but also plays a vital role in its prevention.

The reason colonoscopy is such a powerful tool against bowel cancer is that it allows healthcare professionals to detect and remove precancerous growths called polyps. These polyps, particularly adenomatous ones, have the potential to develop into cancer over time. When they are identified and removed during a colonoscopy, the risk of bowel cancer significantly diminishes.

Many people feel nervous about going for a colonoscopy, but colorectal surgeons do everything they can to make you feel comfortable. If it helps, you can always request a female surgeon!

The current screening guidelines

Historically, bowel cancer screening guidelines in Australia recommended that individuals with average risk begin screening with a faecal occult blood test (FOBT) every two years from the age of 50. However, recent developments in research and epidemiology have prompted a re-evaluation of these guidelines.

Why consider your first colonoscopy at 45?

Here are several compelling reasons why you should consider seeing a colorectal surgeon and having your first colonoscopy in Melbourne at the age of 45 or even earlier if you have a family history of bowel cancer:

  • Rising incidence rates: As mentioned earlier, the incidence of bowel cancer is on the rise in Australia. The trend is showing no signs of slowing down. By initiating colonoscopy screening at a younger age, we can potentially catch more cases at an earlier, more treatable stage.
  • Family history: If you have a family history of bowel cancer or certain genetic syndromes associated with a higher risk of developing the disease, your risk is significantly elevated. Family history includes first-degree relatives (parents, siblings, children) who have been diagnosed with bowel cancer. In such cases, the recommendation is often to start colonoscopy screening earlier, sometimes as young as 40 or even earlier.
  • Increased detection of early-stage cancers: Research has shown that lowering the screening age to 45 can lead to the detection of more early-stage bowel cancers. When detected early, the chances of successful treatment are much higher, and the treatment is often less invasive.
  • Improved cost-effectiveness: Some studies have suggested that lowering the screening age to 45 may be cost-effective, especially when considering the potential savings in treating advanced-stage cancers.
  • Improved outcomes for younger patients: It’s worth noting that bowel cancer is increasingly affecting individuals under the age of 50. By starting screening at 45 with a colorectal surgeon, researchers and doctors can better identify and address this trend, potentially improving outcomes for younger colorectal cancer patients.

The role of personalised medicine

One of the hallmarks of modern medicine is its ability to offer personalised care. This means that healthcare decisions, including screening recommendations, can and should take into account an individual’s unique risk factors, family history, and overall health. If you have concerns about your risk of bowel cancer or a family history of the disease, don’t hesitate to discuss these matters with your healthcare provider or colorectal surgeon.

What to expect at your first colonoscopy in Melbourne

Understandably, the idea of undergoing a colonoscopy may raise concerns or even anxiety for some individuals. However, it’s essential to demystify the procedure and emphasise its life-saving potential.

  1. Preparation: A crucial part of a successful colonoscopy is the preparation. This usually involves a clear liquid diet the day before the procedure and taking a laxative to ensure the colon is clean and clear for examination.
  2. The procedure: During a colonoscopy, you will be sedated, ensuring you are comfortable and relaxed throughout the procedure. The colonoscope is inserted through the rectum and gently moved through the colon. If any polyps are detected, they can often be removed during the procedure.
  3. Recovery: After the colonoscopy, you’ll be monitored as the sedation wears off. Most people can return home the same day. You may experience some mild discomfort or bloating, but this typically resolves quickly.
  4. Follow-up: Your healthcare provider will discuss the results with you and provide guidance on any necessary follow-up steps, such as additional screenings or lifestyle modifications.

Colon cancer is a significant health concern in Australia, but it is one that can be tackled with early detection and prevention. By considering your first colonoscopy at the age of 45 or earlier if you have a family history of bowel cancer, you take a proactive step toward safeguarding your health. Remember that personalised medicine means that healthcare decisions should be tailored to your unique circumstances. Don’t hesitate to discuss your concerns and risk factors with your healthcare provider or book an appointment with a colorectal surgeon, so they can guide you on the most appropriate screening schedule for you. Knowledge and action are the keys to reducing the impact of bowel cancer on your life and your loved ones, so book your colonoscopy in Melbourne today with a leading female surgeon.