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GP letter in bowel screening kit improves uptake

by British Journal of Cancer | News

10 August 2011

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A letter of endorsement from  their local doctor as well as a ‘how-to-do-it’ leaflet  makes more people take part in bowel screening home tests* – says a new study published in the British Journal of Cancer, today.

At least 10 per cent more people who are sent bowel screening kits through the post are likely to do the test if sent a doctor’s letter and leaflet according to researchers from the University of Oxford who looked at more than 1200 patients registered with 20 different general practices.

The patients were split into four groups and received either a test kit on its own, the kit with a GP letter, the kit and a more detailed how-to-do-it-leaflet or the kit with both a letter and leaflet.

Researchers found that including either the letter or the leaflet increased the number of people who posted their kits back by around six per cent each – and including the letter and leaflet together increased participation by around 12 per cent.

At the moment only half of those sent kits return them. By adding the extra information more people would respond.

Bowel cancer is the second biggest cause of cancer deaths in the UK with more than 16,000 people dying from the disease every year.

The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research and the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes.

Paul Hewitson, study author and research fellow from the University of Oxford, said: “These results highlight that simple things like an encouraging letter from patients’ own GP and a how-to-do-it leaflet mean people are more likely to use the bowel screen test kit. It’s important we find ways to improve the uptake of screening as we know that at the moment only around half of 60 and 70 year olds are using and posting back their bowel screening kit.”

Hazel Nunn, head of health evidence and information at Cancer Research UK, said: “The bowel screening test kit could save your life and we urge all those who receive a kit in the post to send it back. The test might seem a bit embarrassing, but it’s easy and simple and something you do in the privacy of your own home.

“Crucially, spotting the disease at an early stage means treatment is more likely to be successful – more than nine in 10 people survive the disease for more than five years if it is diagnosed at the earliest stage.

“By 2025, it’s estimated that bowel cancer screening could save more than 2,000 lives each year in the UK. But screening is not designed for people who’ve already developed symptoms, so if you notice bleeding from the bottom without reason or a persistent change in bowel habit to looser or more frequent stools, don’t wait for the kit to drop through your letterbox, make an appointment to see your doctor.”


For media enquiries contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059.