Prior to this year, if you were sent for an endoscopy procedure in Bonnyville, Alta., you had to wait until the day surgery suite and operating room were free. They were the only rooms in the Bonnyville Health Centre that met infection control criteria for the procedure. The waiting period was about six months.
That’s why, three years ago, the medical team at the Bonnyville Health Centre identified a dedicated endoscopy suite as a top priority. Thanks to the generous support of Alberta Cancer Foundation donors, the new suite opened in October 2017, and it’s already cut down endoscopy wait times in Bonnyville significantly. The new suite is also used by the health centre’s obstetrician/gynecologist to perform colposcopy procedures, which screen for cervical cancer, but it is primarily used to examine the digestive tract via two types of endoscopy procedures: gastroscopies and colonoscopies.
Colonoscopy is an endoscopic procedure that screens for bowel cancer, and it can be life-saving. Bonnyville family physician Dr. Guy Lamoureux describes it as the ability to put a camera and a light up the “rear end” to look for abnormalities. Typically, people are sent for this screening when they have a positive stool test, rectal bleeding or significant risk factors for colorectal cancer, which is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canada. Because it’s usually treatable, the survival rate for this type of cancer is about 65 per cent, but it rises to about 90 per cent with early detection. It can also be preventable — it starts as a pre-cancerous polyp, a growth in the colon that can be identified and removed during a colonoscopy.
Timely access to endoscopy screening not only stands to improve health outcomes, it also plays a significant psychological role for patients whose medical tests indicate they’re at risk for bowel cancer. Waiting for a diagnostic test is extremely stressful.
“If you’re sitting there thinking you might have bowel cancer, every little cramp or ache is going to create a lot anxiety,” Lamoureux says.
Bev Brace is the site manager of continuing care at the Bonnyville Community Cancer Centre. She says that, prior to the arrival of the new endoscopy suite, when colonoscopies were performed in the centre’s day surgery suite, other patients would be present in the waiting and recovery areas, which often exacerbated feelings of anxiety.
“When you’re going in to any potential bad news situation, you want to maintain as calm an environment as possible,” Brace says. She describes the new suite as calm, self-contained and efficient. The adjoining dedicated recovery area and patient waiting area provide space where the endoscopist can share preliminary observations about the procedure results in a confidential manner.
The sense of comfort and dignity the new suite provides, combined with shorter wait times, makes it more likely that people flagged for endoscopy screening will go through the procedure — improving their chances of a quick diagnosis and a treatment.
“[Colorectal cancer] is such a preventable cancer if people follow the program, but you need to have the facilities to follow up on it,” Lamoureux says.
Introduction to Endoscopy
Endoscopy is a nonsurgical way of looking inside the body using a flexible fibre-optic tube equipped with a small light and camera.
The term “endoscope” was first used by French physician and inventor Antonin Jean Desormeaux in 1853, but endoscopic techniques have existed in some form since ancient times.
Upper endoscopy is performed through the mouth, while lower endoscopy is performed through the anus.
You can have an endoscopy procedure while lightly sedated, and while it’s no one’s idea of a good time, it isn’t considered painful.
Colonoscopy (endoscopy of the colon) and polypectomy (removal of pre-cancerous polyps) are the only means of preventing bowel cancers