“During a colonoscopy, pre-cancerous polyps can be detected and removed before they develop into something more sinister requiring surgery and treatment,” said colorectal surgeon, Graham Newstead.
“If bowel cancer is detected, and it is still in the earliest stages, 90 percent of cases can be successfully treated,” he added.
“Research reveals people who do not receive a colonoscopy within six months of a positive screen are unlikely to in the future – not without further intervention,” Dr Newstead said.
Bowel Cancer Australia has long advocated for referral to colonoscopy within 30 days to minimise patient stress and anxiety, as recommended in the Optimal Care Pathway for people with bowel cancer.
Newly released medical guidelines, however are now recommending patients be referred to colonoscopy within a maximum 120-day threshold.
“Despite extending the recommended timeline-to-diagnosis by 300%, the new timeframes are still not being met,” said Mr Wiggins, who shares concerns expressed by individuals involved in developing the new guidelines, that the extended threshold de-emphasises the need for prompt evaluation.
In fact, 1-in-3 participants are waiting more than 180 days to learn if they have bowel cancer following a positive screen result.
“What is needed is a Colonoscopy Wait-time Guarantee,” said Mr Wiggins, “complete with public wait time recording, reporting and adequate resourcing of colonoscopy.”
“Publishing wait times will highlight where resources need to be allocated to improve patient care and will demonstrate a clear commitment on the part of government to meet their own endorsed colonoscopy wait-time recommendations,” said Mr Wiggins.
In the UK, the NHS Constitution pledges a six week (42 day) wait time for diagnostic tests. As of December 2017, 92.7% of patients received a colonoscopy within the targeted 42 days or less from time of referral.
“People who receive a positive screen or experiencing bowel cancer symptoms need assurance that they will receive a necessary diagnostic colonoscopy within recommended guidelines,” Mr Wiggins said.
“Performing colonoscopy as promptly as possible minimises the risk of psychological harm in people experiencing symptoms or those with a positive screen awaiting investigation,” said Dr Newstead.
“Prompt scheduling also helps to ensure any unexpected delays between GP referral and colonoscopy do not flow on to exceed the 120-day threshold when prognosis can worsen if cancer exists.”
“Long wait times directly impact people and their families. They contribute to stress and anxiety and impact a person’s ability to work and function socially, not to mention the increased risk they pose if cancer is actually present,” Dr Newstead said.
Kristy Welch agrees; she had to wait months before receiving a colonoscopy, despite experiencing severe symptoms for over a year.
“I was spending a lot of my work day in the bathroom,” Ms Welch said.
“The main symptoms were blood clots every few months and I was getting really worried.”
“I was in the bathroom around 25 times a day by the time I received my colonoscopy,” Ms Welch said.
“I was sent directly to hospital and three days later they removed 16.5 cm of my bowel.”
Because it had spread to a lymph node, Ms Welch had to undergo chemotherapy, which has left her without feeling in her feet.