Bowel cancer screening is predicted to save over two and a half thousand lives every year in the UK by 2025, according to new research published in the Journal of Medical Screening today*.

The Cancer Research UK funded study, which looked at the impact home testing kits** could have on mortality rates, showed that deaths from bowel cancer are set to drop by around 16 per cent.

By 2025, the numbers of lives that are expected to be saved in the UK each year is between 2200 and 2700.

The faecal occult blood testing kit tests for traces of blood in peoples’ stools, which can be an early sign of bowel cancer***. Detecting the early signs of the disease significantly increases the chance of survival – four out of five people diagnosed at an early stage recover.

The researchers used a computer simulation model – based on mortality and incidence rates between 1975 and 2004 and the number of people that attended screening in early trials – to see the impact that the screening programme would have over the next 20 years.

Study author Dr Max Parkin, Cancer Research UK epidemiologist at Queen Mary University of London, said: “The results of our study show the large number of lives that could be saved by the national bowel cancer screening programme in the next 20 years. Cancer of the bowel is a major problem in the UK for both men and women – it is the second most common cause of cancer death. Screening every two years for people aged between 60 and 74 years old is absolutely crucial in order to reduce the number of people dying from bowel cancer.

“In this study we’re assuming that between 60 and 80 per cent of people will take up the opportunity to be screened. But, if we can encourage more people to take part then we would hope to save even more lives.”

Sara Hiom, director of health information at Cancer Research UK, said: “The screening programme, which started in 2007, aims to detect bowel cancer at an early stage. If it is caught early then treatment is likely to be simpler and much more effective.

“This report highlights how successful screening could be but, worryingly, there are still a large number of people not using the testing kits. This type of screening is non-invasive and anonymous – it’s just a case of doing the test at home and sending a sample off for analysis. It’s so simple yet could save your life. Forgetting to do it or feeling too embarrassed could have serious consequences. We urge everyone who is sent the kit in the post to take part so that more lives can be saved.”


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* Predicting the Impact of the Screening Programme for Colorectal Cancer in the UK D.M.Parkin et al online publication 23 December 2008 Journal of Medical Screening. The Journal of Medical Screening is published by RSM Press, the publishing wing of the Royal Society of Medicine. The Journal is concerned with all aspects of medical screening, particularly the publication of research that advances screening theory and practice. It aims to increase awareness of the principles of screening (quantitative and statistical aspects), screening techniques and procedures and methodologies from all specialties.

**Bowel screening kits – faecal occult blood testing (FOB) – are sent through the post every two years to people aged between 60 and 74 years old. Samples are taken by the individual and sent to a laboratory for testing and the results are posted out within two weeks. In England, the programme started in 2007, but will not cover the whole country until December 2009. In Scotland, screening is offered to everyone aged 50-74, the programme will be implemented by 2009. Wales is hoping to start implementing a screening programme soon, while Northern Ireland is yet to announce whether they will implement a programme. A help line available for enquiries about the bowel cancer screening programme in England (0800 707 60 60) and people aged over 70 can ring it to get a kit if the programme is operating in their area. More than 36,500 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK and about 16,000 people die from bowel cancer each year. For more information on bowel screening visit the NHS Screening Programme website.

***For more information on bowel cancer visit CancerHelp UK.

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