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New clinic aims to save lives from bowel cancer

RPA's Direct Access Colonoscopy Clinic streamlines patient care.

Woman sitting outside
SydneyConnect Image: Deborah Bestulic

A new clinic at RPA is striving to improve bowel cancer survival rates by enhancing access to colonoscopies, a medical procedure which most patients undergo to detect the cancer.

"We're working to reduce the wait times for colonoscopies, which, in turn, will result in earlier detection of bowel cancer. Ultimately, we're aiming to cut the incidence and number of deaths from bowel cancer," Albert Dalao, a Clinical Nurse Consultant at the Direct Access Colonoscopy Clinic, said.

Cancer Institute NSW states bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in Australia. It's estimated that one in 13 people in NSW will be diagnosed with bowel cancer by the age 85. But, if found early 90 per cent of bowel cancers can be successfully treated.

During June, the District is marking Bowel Cancer Awareness Month which raises awareness about prevention, early diagnosis, research and treatment.

The Direct Access Colonoscopy Clinic provides timely access to colonoscopies for patients who have returned a positive result to a bowel cancer screening test.

A faecal occult blood test is the most effective way to detect bowel cancer at the earliest stage – potentially before cancer has developed. If the result is positive, most people will require a colonoscopy.

Under the Clinic's model of care, Albert assesses patients referred to the Clinic over the phone. He uses clinical guidelines to determine if the patient's colonoscopy appointment can be made without the need for a specialist consultation.

If a patient has other conditions, or needs to see a specialist before having the procedure, he schedules a specialist consultation appointment.

About 300 patients have been referred to the Clinic since it opened its doors in September 2020, and about half of them have had their colonoscopies directly booked by the Clinic.

Sydney primary school principal Deborah Bestulic, 62, is one of them. After experiencing on-going fatigue last year, she returned a positive result to a bowel cancer screening test and was referred to the Clinic.

"I had an initial conversation with Albert on the phone. He was fantastic. He explained the process to me and was able to book a colonoscopy appointment for me," she said.

And, she phoned Albert when she had further questions.

"I was a little daunted. But, he answered my questions so I knew what to expect. Being able to talk with the same person made me feel comfortable," she said.

The colonoscopy revealed Deborah had stage one bowel cancer.

"It was confronting. Early detection is so important. I didn't have any other symptoms – although tiredness can be a sign of a significant illness," she said.

She later had surgery at RPA and has recovered well.

There are plans to set up another Direct Access Colonoscopy Clinic at Concord Hospital, in a partnership between the District and Cancer Institute NSW.

The Clinics are a Leading Better Value Care initiative, which is a collaboration between the NSW Ministry of Health, Agency for Clinical Innovation, Clinical Excellence Commission, Cancer Institute NSW, local health districts and networks.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program provides a free, simple home test kit for eligible men and women aged 50-74 years every two years.

To find out more about the program, please click here.