Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Why We Should All Have a Bowel Check; for a Nation That Roars with Laughter at the Mention of Bottoms, We Are Reluctant to Discuss Their Health. Yet Bowel Cancer Is One of the Most Treatable of Cancers If Diagnosed Early, Says Liz Bestic

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Why We Should All Have a Bowel Check; for a Nation That Roars with Laughter at the Mention of Bottoms, We Are Reluctant to Discuss Their Health. Yet Bowel Cancer Is One of the Most Treatable of Cancers If Diagnosed Early, Says Liz Bestic

Article excerpt

Byline: LIZ BESTIC

PEOPLE take it for granted they have their teeth checked every six months, so why not have a bowel check-up and avert problems in later life?"

says Maggie Vance, nurse consultant in gastroenterology at St Mark's Hospital in Northwick Park, part of the North West London Hospitals NHS Trust. Some 12,000 patients come through the doors of St Mark's every year just to find out what is going on in their bowels. "Most of them have come in for an endoscopy, where a tiny fibre-optic tube is passed up the bottom so we can get a good look into their bowel," says Vance. "All our equipment is state-of-the-art, which means every endoscopy unit is a prototype, test-driven and evaluated by staff here before it is ever used on a patient."

Despite our ability these days to talk about almost any bodily function, there is still one area that remains taboo: anything to do with bowels and bottoms. For a nation that can roar with laughter at the mere mention of the word bottom, we are still reticent about the subject. It is a sad fact that even though 34,000 new cases of bowel cancer are diagnosed each year and it is still one of the most treatable of cancers, many cases go undetected for years.

St Mark's can take part of the credit that bottoms are now at the top of the Government's agenda, so to speak. In November 2002, former Health Secretary Alan Milburn announced a plan for a nationwide colorectal screening programme, and two pilot screening projects are already under way in other parts of the country.

THE warm and welcoming atmosphere of St Mark's does much to allay patients' fears, but it is the dedication and skill of the nurses that really puts people at ease. "Part of our aim is to get back to those discrete nursing skills which are so important in this type of work," says senior nurse Sarah Whitefield. "To become a nurse specialist you will have had at least four or five years' experience as a senior nurse in one speciality so you really know your stuff and can understand just how your patients are going to be feeling," she says.

"Being told you have bowel cancer can be absolutely devastating and it can change your life forever."

The team consists of stoma nurses, who look after patients with colostomy bags, psychologists and Macmillan nurses, all of whom work closely with both patients and their families every step of the way. "If a patient is diagnosed with cancer, they know they can rely on a 24-hour helpline for support and advice," says Whitefield.

Bowel cancer often develops from small growths called polyps, some of which are precancerous and can eventually progress to full-blown cancer. The process can take as long as 10 years, during which time the cancer can be prevented by removing these benign growths.

As a specialist nurse, Vance does many of these operations. …

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