Detecting polyps early made all the difference for Shane Kirwan

Bowel cancer detected at Stage 1

Shane Kirwan has good reason to remember the day he came out of hospital after surgery for bowel cancer.

It wasn’t just that he had successfully been operated on for the disease after it was properly and promptly diagnosed and treated in the public system. His daughter Heidi was born on that same day.

“I’ll never know how different things might have been if I hadn’t got that colonoscopy,” Kirwan said of the test that detected a polyp in his colon and led to the early detection of his cancer. “But I know that many others are not so lucky.”

It was five years ago that the then 40-year-old started suffering from constipation and cramping, the kind of non-specific symptoms that can turn out to be harmless but can also, at times, be the precursor of more serious issues.


After three or four days, he went to the GP, who did a physical and sent Kirwan for a colonoscopy. As a public patient, he was seen and examined in St James’s Hospital within six weeks and a 2cm polyp was discovered.

He was diagnosed with early stage 1 bowel cancer; this has a 97 per cent survival rate at five years, compared to 10 per cent for stage 4.

Bowel resection

Kirwan underwent a partial bowel resection, which was successful “because it was caught early” and no further treatment was needed.

“As a result, I am getting the chance to see my daughter grow up. As a public patient, the system worked for me and I had a positive experience, but others are now on waiting lists,” said Kirwan, pointing to figures that show more than 500 patients have been waiting more than a year for a colonoscopy in the public system.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times