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Bowel Screening

Getting colonoscopy results

People usually get the preliminary results of their colonoscopy soon after the procedure, though they may not remember this clearly due to the sedative they received. Some people said that the specialist told them straight away that their bowel looked healthy. In other cases the doctor had explained immediately after the colonoscopy that further treatment might be needed. The type of treatment would depend on the biopsy results.

 

The doctor explained that he had removed some polyps and had sent them to the laboratory for...

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Age at interview: 70
Sex: Male
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And they asked me if I wanted anything to eat, wanted anything to drink and I said, 'No thank you,' I says, 'I feel fine,' I says, 'I'm just waiting to go home now.' And they says, 'You can't go home yet because the doctor wants to come and talk to you, you know.' So I had to go, get dressed, then I had to go into another private room and the doctor came in to see me, and that's when he explained everything what he'd found and what was going to happen next you know they was going to send, took parts away and they was going for test and he told me what he was going to do if they were diseased, told me exactly what he would do and he told me exactly what he would do if there wasn't disease. And that's when I went the week afterwards to see the nurses again and they, they told me then that everything was fine and he was going to take the polyps away. And they said, 'Can you come in again Tuesday?'

One woman described what happened when she woke up after the colonoscopy. The screening practitioner, who she thought was a nurse, explained that some small polyps had been removed but that she would need an operation to remove a larger one that was deep in the wall of the bowel.

 
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When she woke up she learnt that she had to have an operation to remove a polyp. At the time they...

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Age at interview: 60
Sex: Female
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Did they tell you what they found at the time? 

They did tell me that they'd found four polyps and they was varying in size from half a centimetre up to two and a half centimetres. The three smaller ones they did laser, and they took biopsies of those, and they said that they wasn't cancerous. And also they'd took a sample of the big one, and they found that that wasn't cancerous, but they, left that because it was too far in the bowel wall, as they didn't really know if it was cancerous after that.

I see. So you, what were your feelings at that stage?

Better.

This was after you'd come round, after you were recovering from the colonoscopy. Did they tell you all this, or did you have to go back and see them?

No, I think the nurse came and told me after I'd come round, I think she, I think that's when they did tell me actually. And, I don't know, I don't really know what's, what I felt like, when she said I'd got to have the, you know, the operation, they'd prefer to do the operation. It was, it just felt strange.

Thinking, I've got to go through that, and then, was it, have I got cancer or not? 

And, it was just, I just could not take it in at that time.

It must have been hard?

It was, you know, it was a little bit because you know, I didn't know, whether it was, like I say, whether it was cancer or not, and then, well why should I have to have the operation?

So the big polyps didn't appear to be cancerous, but they were worried because it was so embedded in the bowel wall, was it cancerous deep down?

Deep down.

Was that what they were worried about?

Yes, that was what they was worried about yeah.

I see. And that was why they wanted to do the operation.

And that was why they wanted to do the operation.

Did you have to go back again after the colonoscopy, to discuss all this again with the nurse or the surgeon? Or did you just then have to get on, go in again?

I went back to see the surgeon, and he explained it all, and the reason why they was doing it. And showed me a diagram and explained it all to me, and said what part they would probably take out.

Immediately after her colonoscopy another woman was told that she had a large polyp that looked 'suspicious' and that she needed an appointment to see a surgeon, who told her that the polyp looked cancerous and that surgery was needed.

 

Before she went home the doctor told her that she had a suspicious looking polyp and that she...

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Age at interview: 68
Sex: Female
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And the doctor said to me right away, whilst I was there, before I came away, he said, 'Well there are, there's one which is a polyp,' he said, 'which is small and it's nothing so that's been taken away but,' he said, 'the other one I dare not touch it because,' he said, 'it's too, a bit larger and it looks a bit suspicious,' very suspicious actually he said. So he made an appointment for me to see a surgeon and who explained the whole thing to me and he said that they did think it was cancerous. I immediately flew into a panic [laughs] because you know I'd just couldn't imagine that I would have cancer. I'm very healthy, I'm fit, you know I just couldn't believe it. Anyway I went into the doctor, into the hospital, they arranged very quickly for me to have an operation, within a matter of ten days I think and I had it removed very successfully. And I was lucky that I caught it so early because they said it was a Class A Dukes which I didn't know what that was then but they explained to me that it was only just turning [malignant].

Some people described more unusual situations. For example, a woman said that after the colonoscopy the nurse had explained that the specialist had not seen anything that might cause serious concern but that during the procedure he had noted that she had an enlarged valve where the small bowel meets the large bowel. He had taken a biopsy to make absolutely sure that there was no disease.

 
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Immediately after her colonoscopy the nurse told her that the doctor had seen a slightly enlarged...

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Age at interview: 62
Sex: Female
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And then you go into the recovery room and the nurse came to see me, the original nurse I'd seen at the other hospital. Because she was there, that was nice, because I actually knew one of the nurses. And she said they couldn't find anything, but they'd taken a small biopsy from the valve [where the large bowel meets the small bowel] because it was slightly enlarged, but, they weren't, really weren't expecting anything, it was just a precaution. And that she would either, I could either go to the clinic, or she could phone me at work, or at home, within two weeks [to get the results of the biopsy].

People were usually told that they would get the results of a biopsy within three weeks of the investigation. If there was nothing wrong some people received their results over the telephone and a letter to confirm the results.

 

The doctor phoned him within a few days to say that the polyps were benign (not cancerous).

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Age at interview: 63
Sex: Male
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So after the colonoscopy the doctor told you what he'd done and told you the result?

No he told me that he'd taken them [the polyps] off and they would go away to the lab. When they come back from the lab he would ring me immediately and he did. I think, I can't remember exact times but it was within three, four days and he said, 'They're benign', that was it, which of course then is the greatest relief of all you know.

 

The nurse rang her with the result of the colonoscopy. The polyps that had been removed were...

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Age at interview: 70
Sex: Female
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What were your feelings during that time?

Concern, very concerned before the result came through. Yes, just great concern, and the people who knew that I had been, were concerned as well, you know, and rang up, which of course increased my concern really and truly, but yes it was a great relief when they rang up and said, and I got the letter about the same time, to say that they wouldn't need to see me for three years and that everything was clear so that was, that was terrific, that was really, really good. 

 

The nurse phoned to say that the polyp had been benign and that he did not need to keep the...

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Age at interview: 68
Sex: Male
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I did remain quiet for a few hours after that [the colonoscopy], and before leaving the hospital though an appointment was made for me to go two weeks later for a follow up consultancy to have the result of the polyp. But in actual fact it was about a week after that that the original nursing sister phoned me up and said they'd had the results back and everything was benign and unless I wanted to keep that appointment and go and talk to them there was no need to do so. All was clear and they would invite me for another bowel screening in three years' time. 

However, most people received their results when they went to the hospital to keep an appointment with the specialist screening practitioner (usually the nurse who had been with them during the colonoscopy). The vast majority of people who attend screening receive good news at that time.

 

He went to see the nurse at the hospital. She told him that the polyp removed during the...

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Age at interview: 65
Sex: Male
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What were you feeling at that time when you were actually waiting to find out if it was alright or not?

I don't worry about things like that, I don't bother.

You're not a worrier.

No, I didn't bother really I thought no I, I don't look on the black side of things, I always look on the positive side of things which I think is the way to be really.

And then how did you get the results?

Well they sent me another letter from the clinic and asked me to go and see the nurse at the clinic. And I went and she said, 'We've had your results of your polyp what they took out.' I said, 'Yes.' And they said it isn't cancerous so it's a good thing. 

And they said, 'Well we'll see you in a couple of years time,' so.

 
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The nurse explained everything and told him that the results were good. He will have another test...

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Age at interview: 66
Sex: Male
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Husband' I was then called back to the clinic.

Wife' The following week.

Husband' The following week and had the results there and then which was quite, I would say very good, successful, and which I'm quite pleased about. But I was informed that after two years time I will have to go back and have another test and see if there's any further information.

So when you went back to the clinic to get your results what happened exactly?

Husband' I was taken into the room, I sat down with the nurse and she explained everything to me, what was the procedure that was done and the results, and she told me all the results and said that it was very good, the result was very good.

So the nurse gave you the results, you didn't have to see the doctor again then?

Husband' No, no, no.

 
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He felt a great sense of relief when the nurse told him that he had only benign polyps and that...

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Age at interview: 71
Sex: Female
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I am a bit of a pessimist, you know, hypochondriac you could say in fact. Yes I did find it very upsetting. I think it's the waiting about, like after I'd had the colonoscopy you've got to wait two weeks for the results, and I can remember going to the hospital and the nurse coming in and saying I'll be with you in five minutes, and you think, you know, 'Oh my god what's she going to say?' And then the relief when I found out it was just polyps. But then you realise that if those polyps had been left, they could have turned cancerous you see, so, it probably saved my life. Well, I think it had you know. Because they were quite big polyps and I understand that polyps can turn cancerous, so I would say that it had saved my life, yes.

Sadly other people had learnt that there was something seriously wrong and that they needed further surgery.

 

He went to the hospital to get his results a week after the colonoscopy. The doctor explained...

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Age at interview: 67
Sex: Male
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And then he [the doctor] asked you to come back a week later to talk about it?

To talk about it yes, I mustn't miss that appointment.

And what happened on that occasion?

On that occasion he told me that it was positive and that I would need to have surgery to remove the growth.

So did he say it was bowel cancer at that stage?

Yes.

And what were your feelings then?

Well I was, I was okay with it, you know you just gone along with it don't you and place your, yourself in their hands and know they're going to do the best thing for you and I was quite philosophical about it you know. I had no problems with that at all.

And then you had to go back for the operation.

Went back for the operation, yes.

People were sometimes understandably shocked by the news that they had bowel cancer, although some people said that they had started to suspect something was wrong before they were officially told the results. This man was told that the tip of one of the polyps that had been removed had been cancerous. Both he and his wife were worried and feared the worst.

 

He was shocked when the nurse told him he had cancer. His wife phoned the nurse after she got...

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Age at interview: 61
Sex: Male
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Right so then a week later you went back to see the nurse again, can you explain again in detail how that conversation went?

Right I arrived at the hospital, possibly, possibly a week later which I was met by the nurse and she called me into her room and sat me down and said, 'Well we've got the results back from your polyp test and it was cancerous at the tip,' which I sunk back in my chair sort of thing. And she realised this because she said to me, 'You looked shocked.' So I said, 'Well I am a bit shocked,' I said because if you remember afterwards you said, "Oh well everything seems to be fine, you know nothing looks nasty." Of which she agreed, she did she said, 'But of course you know everything did look fine but you know just that one' she said, 'but of course" she said, 'we were surprised when it came back as well you know that was a cancerous tip but we are going to keep a check on you now.'

You said it was quite a shock and I can understand that. What happened when you got home and with family?

I think, well I, initially when she told me that the polyp was cancerous I think it's just that word cancer, you know you just think, oh you just think the worst. And of course my wife was in the waiting room and when I came out and, and I told her. Well we were, we were supposed to have been going for a meal when we left there but she didn't want to go for a meal you know because she thought the worst as well you know which is a natural reaction. And the nurse was absolutely brilliant. She said to me, she said, 'Look now when you get home,' she said, 'if there's anything playing on your mind about the conversation we've had please call me and we will talk together' And she said, 'Same with your wife if your wife is concerned please get her to call me.' Which when we got back home my wife was concerned, I knew she was concerned about this.

Of course.

And it was worrying her. So I said, 'Well look give the nurse a ring and just have a chat,' which she done and she put her at ease you know and that was great.

Occasionally people received the result of their colonoscopy directly from a surgeon. For example, a man who initially had a normal Faecal Occult Blood test result, but who later noticed blood in his motions, and then had a colonoscopy, received a phone call from the consultant's secretary. He met the surgeon the following day and was told that he had cancer and that surgery was urgently needed.

 

The doctor told him that he had cancer and would need surgery as soon as possible.

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Age at interview: 70
Sex: Male
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Can you tell me how you got the, the news there was a problem?

Right well the news came via a phone call from the consultant's secretary, to which I responded by making a call back because I, I wasn't in at the time that the message was left. So my son and I then duly went down to see the consultant, the following day, and he said to me, he said, 'I'm afraid you've, you've got a cancer. What do you think?' I said, 'Well there's only one thing I can think of we'll have to get on with it.' And he said, 'Oh right, oh that's good.' And he said, 'Can you, can you come in this Saturday.' It was as quick as that. And unfortunately I couldn't because my wife had just died, and we, we were arranging the funeral and the funeral was to be on the Friday prior to the day that he wanted me to be in hospital so I said, 'Could you delay that, for obvious reasons?' And he said, 'Well I'm going away for a fortnight.' So I said, 'Well that's fine, two weeks' time, if you can arrange that for when you come back from holiday then fine I'll come in then.'

That must have been a very difficult day for you?

Well I think possibly with what was going on with my family problem, with my wife dying, that probably took precedence to the cancer.

People who had been told that they had bowel cancer said that the specialist screening practitioners (usually a nurse) spent a lot of time with them explaining the results. Some greatly valued the continuity with the same practitioner at this stage. The nurses offered information and reassurance and explained what check-ups might be needed in future. They also emphasised the positive aspects of what had happened.

 

He felt better when the nurse told him it was a good thing his cancer had been found early when...

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Age at interview: 61
Sex: Male
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So you wanted to say something else?

Yes, just going back to when I went to get my results for the polyps the nurse said to me about the tip being cancerous and I was taken back, I was shocked and she said to me, 'You know you look shocked,' so I said, 'Yeah I am sort of taken back a bit.' But she said, 'Well look at it this way if, if you hadn't of come here, if you hadn't have done this test, three to four years up the road you would have been having problems and them problems could have been serious. So just look at it as nothing but positive that you came here, you've done this test, because otherwise you would know nothing about it, you would have had problems.'

Did that make you feel a little bit better?

Oh it did, oh definitely without a doubt and with her saying that yes I did, I thought to myself well yeah I could have just ignored that test kit, gone on with my life and three years up the road I could have been taken ill, seriously ill and they could have opened me up and found this you know horrible thing called bowel cancer, you know, which they might not have been able to do anything about. So yes, have this test done. If you're 60 and above and that [invitation for screening] drops on your doorstep you do the test because it just takes five minutes of your time.

 

The nurse was very concerned and told him in a very tactful, positive way that a polyp was ...

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Age at interview: 61
Sex: Male
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I think you said at the beginning that this particular polyp was malignant, or it wasn't?

It was.

So it was.

This particular one that was giving him concern was potentially malignant and cancerous, but he was also very, very sure in his own mind that he'd removed all of it, and that there wouldn't be a problem, but the situation pertains that it's sufficiently serious for me to go back in three months, for it to be to be checked out again.

How was the, all this news delivered to you yesterday, how did the interview go?

With the same staff nurse, well the same nurse practitioner who I had a point of contact with all the way through. I think that's a very, very good thing, the degree of personal contact with one member of staff with whom one can identify, and take a problem to and who's quite willing to answer any questions at any time should there be anything causing concern, and she was very, very concerned and she delivered the results to both my wife and myself, in a very, very tactful, but very positive way and I must be honest she was talking more to my wife in some respects than she was myself because I suppose she thought that as a woman my wife would have very great concerns about my own potential future, or lack of it, because of this, but for myself I suddenly had visions of a colostomy bag, and remembered that my cousin had had the same problem about twenty years ago. 

And how were your feelings when you left the room?

My feelings were one of almost morbid foreboding, I must be honest, and my wife was saying to me only last night that I was tending to look on the black side rather than on the good side. The plus factors obviously when one thinks about them are far more important than the down side. Had I not been caught in the screening process and had I not responded to it, the polyps wouldn't have been removed and within perhaps two to three years what is a potential problem now could have been a very serious one and life threatening.

Occasionally people did not receive their results in the best possible manner. For example, one man received an appointment for a liver scan before he had been told the result of his colonoscopy. He did not know what was going on and felt the situation was 'going completely mad'. Later, when he went to the hospital the surgeon gave him the bad news he had cancer and showed him vivid pictures of the inside of his bowel. He had surgery 16 days later.

 

The surgeon told him he had cancer and showed him pictures of the inside of his bowel. A nurse...

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Age at interview: 67
Sex: Male
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Yes I was invited, I had a letter come to tell me that I'd got to report to a local hospital for a colonoscopy which informed me also that I would require three days. One day for preparation, one day for the colonoscopy and then one day for recovery. And then I was also told that it would be about a week to go to see the local surgeon. On the morning that I was to go and see the surgeon I also received a letter saying that I was required to report to the hospital for a liver scan which at that time I, I have to say I was totally confused. I didn't know what was going on. It had suddenly escalated into this situation where I was thinking, now I don't know what's going on. I knew what would happen once I started this, it would escalate to a point where I couldn't control it. Still thinking that there was simply nothing wrong with me.

So that was before you'd seen anybody to get the results of the colonoscopy. You were asked to have a liver scan?

Yeah. The letter came on the day that I was to go for the interview with the surgeon. It came on the same morning. We were about to go to the hospital for this interview with the surgeon and it came through the door. So I, I had a quick look at it and, that was it, I thought, 'Well I don't know what's going on. The whole thing is going complete, completely mad now.' And I think that perhaps it's worth noting that we were very fit because there was never a time, a weekend when we weren't out on the bike. Our holidays were centred on cycling and we were always out walking. And it seemed completely out of order, what was going on considering our lifestyle.

And then when you went to see the surgeon what did he say exactly? How did he explain what he'd found or done?

I have to say my surgeon is a true gentleman but he's not exactly a man of mirth although he delivers what he has to say pan-faced. When we went in he said that. He showed me some quite explicit pictures of what a perfectly good bowel looks like and then he showed me some pictures of a bowel with polyps in it and he said that he could cope with that perfectly alright. That was something that could be dealt with quite easily. And then showed me something that he said that he couldn't deal with and it was not a pretty sight. And that was when he said it was my bowel which I disbelieved and said that he must have the wrong pictures. Of course, he said no, I've got the right picture.

So that must have been a big shock for you?

Yes it was a shock.

And how did you manage, how did you cope with all that, that day?

Well I must have sounded like a gibbering idiot really but. Well it was difficult to cope with. I don't know how I coped with it really but I did have the benefit of the nurse that was present taking me into a small room and then giving, giving us an opportunity to come to terms with it with less impact. You know we were able to, to take it in. And she was very easy with us, allowed us time to come to terms with it before we left the hospital.

Another unfortunate situation occurred when a woman due to see the screening practitioners for the results, received a phone call from a hospital secretary the day before asking her to make an appointment with a surgeon. Realising that this could mean that something was seriously wrong, she panicked.

 

When she was telephoned to make an appointment with the surgeon she realised something was wrong,...

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Age at interview: 68
Sex: Female
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And they removed the polyps. After I'd had half an hour's rest, the doctor came out to talk to my husband and myself, and he said, they sent, they've been sent to histology, and he didn't think there was anything to be concerned about. I'd got to go and see the girls again the week after for the results, but the night before I'd got to go I had a phone call asking if I was available for an appointment with the consultant, the week on the following Friday. I panicked a bit, and I said, 'I've already had my colonoscopy', and she said, 'I know you've had your colonoscopy, are you available for an appointment with the consultant a week on Friday?' So I looked at the calendar, yes, I could do that. And then I started really to panic, because I really knew then that something was the matter.

But anyhow the next day I went to see the girls, and they explained what they'd found. They'd found a cancer in one of the polyps. And'I was basically devastated. We got through that, went to see the consultant, and she was lovely, she really was. She didn't have to say, would you like me to do this, or would you like me to do, she just said what she was going to do, and what part of the bowel she was going to remove.


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Last reviewed May 2016.

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