Genetic Testing for Bowel Cancer

What are the signs of hereditary bowel cancer

Families with hereditary bowel cancer generally show one or more of the following signs:

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  • Bowel cancer diagnosed at a young age (before the age of 50)
  • Several relatives with bowel cancer
  • Relatives with bowel cancer and related cancers (such as womb or ovarian cancer)
  • Multiple bowel polyps* in an individual
  • Multiple generations with cancer

*Cancer usually starts as a benign growth known as a polyp. Not all polyps will become cancerous and they can often be removed during screening.

Bowel Gene – bowel cancer genetic testing

BowelGene is bowel cancer genetic testing which examines the DNA code for 11 genes known to cause an increased risk of bowel cancer. It is performed on a blood sample and if possible it is always more informative to test a relative who has had bowel cancer.

What can I do if I am shown to be at increased risk?

When someone has an increased risk of bowel cancer it is usual for them to have a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is when a flexible telescope is inserted into the anus to examine the entire bowel (rectum and colon).

If any polyps are found these can usually be removed to prevent them developing into cancer. The frequency of colonoscopy screening will depend on which gene mutation is found.

Screening for other cancers may also be needed and will be discussed if necessary.

Aspirin has been shown to lower the risk of bowel cancer in some circumstances and is currently recommended for Lynch Syndrome (LS) carriers.

Genetic counselling

Only 2-5% of bowel cancer is hereditary but if there is a family history of bowel cancer, this can be a big worry. Deciding to have a genetic test is a big decision for any man or woman and one that needs careful consideration. That’s why we offer genetic counsellors to assist you prior to any testing.

Our counsellors, based at Elstree Cancer Centre, will provide you with all the information you need to make a decision and will help explain the process of genetic testing to you. Our counsellors will also be available once you have had your testing to discuss your results and options.

Why would I want to know that I’m at risk of cancer?

Genetic testing can help determine the risk of cancer within a family and guide appropriate cancer screening. Depending on the specific genetic risk different screening tests can be arranged and risk-reducing strategies considered. Colonoscopies have particularly been shown to lower the risk of bowel cancer in families with an inherited risk.

Risk factors

The risk of bowel cancer increases as a person becomes older which is why bowel screening for the general population currently starts at 60. A personal history of bowel polyps, type 2 diabetes, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s, and a condition known as acromegaly also increase the risk of bowel cancer and you should consult your doctor regarding screening if you have these.

Smoking and drinking alcohol have both been shown to increase the risk of bowel cancer. Your GP can help with smoking cessation and/or discuss your alcohol intake if you are concerned. Red meat, processed meat, abdominal and body fat also increase the risk of colorectal cancer.

A diet high in dietary fibre, garlic, milk and calcium may lower the risk of colorectal cancer, as does physical activity. 

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For more information or to book an appointment, please call 0800 085 6616.

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