Nine in ten people with bowel cancer that is caught early will survive the disease, according to new statistics published today (Tuesday).
Experts believe this shows how vital it is for people with possible symptoms to get them checked out so that any cancer can be diagnosed as early as possible.
They also say that this highlights the importance of taking part in bowel cancer screening when invited.
The latest figures are the first to be based on national statistics and are published by the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) and the Northern and Yorkshire Cancer Registry and Information Service (NYCRIS).
Doctors say that this good news is mainly because of improved surgical techniques.
Professor David Forman, director of NYCRIS and information lead for the NCIN, said: “It’s really encouraging that more people with bowel cancer will now be successfully treated, if the disease is caught at the earliest stage.
“But overall, only half of people with bowel cancer survive, so this shows how crucial it is that the disease is spotted early.
“More than 80 per cent of bowel cancer cases occur in people over 60. Bowel cancer screening will be available across England for people in this age group by December 2009, and it can pick up changes that could be the earliest sign of cancer. Pilot screening programmes showed that over half of cancers detected through screening are at the earliest stage.
“So it is really important that people take part in screening when they’re sent the kit – it could save their life.”
Paul Finan, bowel cancer surgeon and chair of the NCIN’s bowel cancer group, said: “The reason why more people are surviving early stage bowel cancer than ever before is mostly because of many improvements in surgery. This includes using less invasive techniques, and patients receiving better care around the time of surgery – like more sophisticated anaesthetic care and better care during hospital admission and recovery.”
The NCIN looked at every case of bowel cancer diagnosed in England between 1996 and 2006 and the percentage of people that survived for at least five years.
The survival figures were grouped together by each of the four stages of bowel cancer, known as Dukes A, B, C, and D, with A being the earliest stage of the disease.
Only around 13 per cent of bowel cancers are diagnosed at stage A, so it is important to find ways to increase this proportion, including through bowel cancer screening.
Around 34 per cent of cases were recorded without details of the stage of the disease.
Chris Carrigan, head of the NCIN, said: “This is the first of many reports that the NCIN will produce, some of which will include detailed statistics on cancer – like the stage of cancer – that have never been brought together on a national scale.
“We know that most cancers are more likely to be treated successfully if they are spotted early, so it’s important that we have a way to measure if this is happening.
“Through information like this, we can help to improve cancer services. We can figure out which cancers are being diagnosed at a later stage and suggest policies and health campaigns to address these issues.”
For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.
Previous survival for bowel cancer at an early stage was estimated to be around 83 per cent, but these statistics were not national.
NYCRIS is the lead cancer registry for bowel cancer.
About Bowel Cancer Screening
The roll out of the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme in England began in April 2006, and full roll out across the country is expected by December 2009. The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme offers screening every two years to all men and women aged 60 to 69. People over 70 can request a screening kit by calling a freephone helpline when the programme reaches their area. From 2010, the programme will be extended to men and women aged 70 to 75. By the end of 2010, we will assess whether or not to extend the programme to people in their 50s.
For information on the symptoms of bowel cancer, click here.