Each year, about 36,500 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer – equal to 100 people every day. It is the second most common cancer in women and the third most common amongst men . In 80% of cases, surgery is required and remains the main form of treatment for this cancer. However this can be painful with long recovery times. Spire Healthcare consultants, Mr Mathur and Mr Elton are specialist surgeons trained to carry out a laparoscopic anterior resection, a pioneering procedure for bowel cancer that aims to leave the patient with minimal scarring and back on their feet within days.
The surgery is carried out by making four keyhole incisions just below the beltline. The patient is tilted during the surgery using a special operating table and the surgeon uses a harmonic scalpel (a tool which uses ultrasonic vibrations to remove tissue) to seal off the tumour which is removed through one of the incisions which is slightly larger than the others. The ends of the bowel are then stapled back together again. “Traditional surgery would result in a much larger incision in the abdomen, which would mean more healing is required. Recovery times can therefore take up to ten days in hospital and involve considerable pain,” comments Mr Pawan Mathur, TITLE at Spire Bushey hospital. “However, laparoscopic surgery is much less invasive, so patients can be back at home in as little as four days.”
One patient who underwent surgery with Mr Mathur and Mr Elton was 69 year-old Gary McAuliffe, from New Barnet: “At first I thought I was suffering from haemorrhoids,” he says, “However the bleeding I was experiencing became more common and it got to the point when I couldn’t play a round of golf without having to excuse myself.”
He continued: “I never thought that my symptoms were actually as a result of cancer, it hadn’t even crossed my mind. When I found out that I had bowel cancer, it was a shock, but my instant reaction was to accept it and work out what options were available and where we were going to go from there. I was so lucky to have caught my cancer early on, as it hadn’t spread to my liver which often happens. One thing that I have learnt from the experience is that whether you have symptoms or not, getting checked is the best option.”
Gary was the first person to have the laparoscopic surgery at Spire Bushey and his surgery was a complete success. He was sitting up reading the papers the same day. “When I came out of hospital I pretty much carried on as normal. I was back in the office within a week. My operation was two years ago and following regular check-ups and scans, I have now been given the all-clear. Now I have to search to find the scars from my surgery!” Gary adds.
Mr Mathur adds: “During Gary’s procedure, we removed the tumour and stapled the ends of the bowel back together. However, the extent of the surgery will depend on the size and severity of the tumour in other cases. Due to the short recovery period, patients are able to eat sooner and their bowels can work quicker, meaning that they can also return to normal life more quickly. However, the key to successful treatment is through early identification. Often the symptoms of bowel cancer are non-existent or the same as other non-critical conditions such as piles. I cannot stress the importance of getting tested as, with all cancers, if any abnormalities are caught early treatment can be more effective.”
In England the Government has a national Bowel Cancer Screening Programme throughout selected regions for men and women aged 60 to 69. People over 70 can request a screening kit by calling a free-phone helpline when the programme reaches their area. For more information on the NHS screening programme, visit http://www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk/bowel