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Over 12 per cent more bowel cancer cases found in over 60s because of screening

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by Cancer Research UK | News

23 March 2011

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Bowel cancer rates in 60 to 69 year olds went up by more than 12 per cent in England from 2006 to 2008, according to the latest figures from Cancer Research UK.

The increase in cases comes shortly after the introduction of bowel screening in England began to be rolled out nationally in 2006 for men and women aged 60 to 69. Screening is now offered to men and women from ages 60 to 74 in England.

Before the screening programme, bowel cancer rates in this age group were fairly stable, increasing by no more than 2.1 per cent in any two-year period in the last decade. Rates started to increase during 2007 – up by six per cent in 60-69 year olds in England compared with 2006.

Bowel cancer screening uses the faecal occult blood test (FOBT) which is mailed to people to carry out at home. People post a series of small stool samples to a lab to be tested for traces of hidden blood which could be an early sign of bowel cancer.

When bowel cancer is found at the earliest stage, there is an excellent chance of survival and more than 90 per cent of people survive the disease at least five years. But if the tumour is advanced when it is diagnosed, fewer than one in 20 people survive this long.

Catherine Thomson, Cancer Research UK’s head of statistics, said: “These figures are evidence that the bowel cancer screening programme is helping to find cases of bowel cancer sooner.

“Without the screening programme it’s likely that many of these cancers would not have been found for another few years, by which time they would be harder to treat.

“This test can help find bowel cancer at an early stage, before it causes noticeable symptoms.

“It’s expected that when all of the national screening programmes across the UK have been up and running for a couple of years, that similar results will be seen for the whole of the UK. And hopefully the screening programme will soon reduce the number of deaths from bowel cancer.”

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK – about 40,000 people are diagnosed with the disease each year in the UK.

The biggest risk factor for developing the disease is age. More than eight out of 10 bowel cancers are diagnosed in people aged 60 or over. Family history can also play a role.

People can reduce the risk of developing the disease by keeping a healthy weight, being physically active, eating a healthy diet high in fibre and low in red and processed meat, cutting down on alcohol and not smoking.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of health information, said: “Our work is at the heart of the progress that has seen survival rates for bowel cancer double over the last 40 years and bowel screening has a key role to play in beating bowel cancer.

“Flexi-scope screening, which we helped develop, will soon become part of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Programme and will save even more lives in the future.”

“It’s really important to take up the current opportunity to use the free bowel screening test when it comes through your door because it can help pick up early signs of bowel cancer.

“Also if you notice changes to your bowel habits like looser or more frequent bowel movements that last more than four weeks or blood in your stools don’t delay in seeing a doctor.”


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