Back in December we wrote about Jeremy Hunt’s announcement that six centres in England would start using Bowel Scope Screening (BSS, also known as flexi-scope or flexible sigmoidoscopy) as part of their bowel screening programme in 2013.
This week, 55 year olds in the South of Tyne region (which includes Gateshead, Sunderland and South Tyneside) received the first wave of letters inviting them to be screened.
This is great news. Cancer Research UK has been involved in Bowel Scope Screening from the beginning – we co-funded a 16 year study which showed that it cuts deaths by over 40 per cent, and – unlike the current test – can actually prevent a third of bowel cancers among those screened.
As a result, it has the potential to save thousands of lives from bowel cancer each year.
As soon as the trial results were published in 2010, we said we wanted the Government to add BSS to the existing bowel screening programme, and later that year, they agreed, setting aside £60m to fund it.
Since then we’ve been calling for Bowel Scope Screening to start as soon as possible, so it’s fantastic to see it finally happen.
What does the test do?
The test used in Bowel Scope Screening, flexible sigmoidoscopy , uses a flexible tube with a camera and a light on the end to look into your lower bowel. It can spot both early-stage cancers and pre-cancerous growths known as ‘polyps,’ which can be immediately removed to prevent them developing into cancer.
There’s information about having sigmoidoscopy on our website, or you can watch this video.
Recent studies have shown that people find it ‘acceptable’ and ‘reassuring’.
It’s not a new test – it’s been used to diagnose bowel cancer in patients with symptoms for many years. But what is new is using it in this way to screen the population before they even have symptoms. And this could have a huge impact on bowel cancer in this country.
When will it be available?
This is the first of six ‘pilot’ centres which will iron out any potential problems in the system before rolling out BSS to the rest of the country. Over the next few months, another five centres will then start to offer Bowel Scope Screening.
By 2016, everyone in England should be invited to have a test at the age of 55.
What does it mean for me?
Bowel Scope Screening adds to the existing bowel screening programme, which uses the Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) – which looks for blood in your stools. People are invited from age 60 to participate (or age 50 in Scotland).
Under the new plans, if you live in England, you’ll be invited to be screened using BSS when you turn 55. If you decide not to go (and it is your decision), you can change your mind up until you turn 60. At that point you’ll be invited to take part in the existing bowel screening programme.
Whether or not you decide to have BSS, you will still be invited to take part in the existing screening programme at 60, to help spot any cancer that might develop later on. Although it hasn’t been shown to prevent cancer in the same way as BSS, FOBT is still an important way of helping to diagnose bowel cancer at an early stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful. The evidence so far suggests it’s made a big impact already and BSS takes this a step further.
This is an important first step. Now we need to make sure that everyone can benefit from Bowel Scope Screening. At the moment BSS is only being rolled out in England. We want to see Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland develop their own plans for BSS, including making sure they have the right facilities available.
If this test is made available across the UK, thousands of deaths will be prevented, and – even better – potentially thousands of people will be spared from ever having to experience this terrible disease.
- Dan Hughes-Morgan is a policy adviser at Cancer Research UK
Carol April 15, 2013
Just wondered why they are not including the NW in the pilot group?
I am a 50yr old female and have lost a grandad, three of his daughters and one of their daughters to colon cancer between ages 51 & 70, does this put me into a higher risk category?
Dawn Witney April 12, 2013
This is wonderful news and needs to be rolled out across the UK asap. My husband died in 2002 from bowel cancer. He had been given a colonoscopy in 1998 and this had detected what were described as tags. No treatment had been offered. He underwent major abdominal surgery in May 2000 after finding blood in his stools, but his tumour had already spread and his condition was diagnosed as terminal. The truly awful thing is that even if they had found a polyp in 1998 they would not have removed it. He was 53 when he died.
Fiona April 11, 2013
This is excellent news, but do hope this will be offered throughout the UK. I’m approaching 50 and bowel cancer worries me. I lost my dear Mum to this cancer in 1994 – three weeks after diagnosis. She was only 61. If the bowel screening test that is now offered in Scotland to over 50s had been available then perhaps it would have been detected a lot earlier.
Such good news when progress is made to offer screening.
J Turner April 9, 2013
I think it’s great. Any screening is a good thing, however, I was 39 when I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. It was only found because I had a scope. The specialist said that other tests (ie barium enema) would not have found it. Luckily for me my cancer was found early and surgery was all that was needed. Having said that, I wouldn’t ever want to go through bowel surgery again – it’s not nice. The scope is nothing by comparison. I’ve had about 6 now and believe me they are far preferable to the possible alternative!!
hayleyorganics April 8, 2013
If you feel that your concerns are not being taken seriously then its important to be persistent, whatever your age, make a diary of your symptoms and what you have eaten for a couple of weeks as proof of what you are suffering to prove how serious you are.
If after a couple of visits you get nowhere then as Dan says, see a different G.P or book in with a practice nurse who can further raise your concerns for you.
If you still have no joy then I would contact your practice manager, G.P’s unfortunately don’t have unlimited funds but if you are really concerned and have genuine reason to be then keep trying.
Health is our own responsibility and therefore we must follow up our visits until a test is provided if it is justified, also ask for dietary advice and follow it, as a change in diet may help symptoms and if it doesn’t this will strengthen your case.
John Cupis April 7, 2013
I am a very fit 75. Recently I underwent the full medical to maintain a PCV driving licence. Recently I walked in the Brecon Beacons. I have no symptoms but would like to have screening for bowel cancer. Can this be done?
Bex April 6, 2013
I think that the testing is a great thing but as with many of these things I wonder about the age groups. I understand its a trial at the moment and its the most at risk group. I am 28 and am pretty much always constipated/blood in stools/gassy/get cramps/have piles…and have visited doctors many times over the years and basically they are always reluctant to even test for anything…im sure they think im imagining it! having said that one doctor did reluctantly send me for a colonoscopy once and thankfully found nothing to be concerned about (this was a couple of years ago now) but i just worry that the younger generation needs to be taken seriously and offered these tests too…
Vera Mason April 5, 2013
My husband and I would certainly like to take any test available but maybe we are too old – I am 82 and my husban is 88
Christine Higgs April 5, 2013
I think that any tests done to look for cancer now or later on are very positive, I would definately be interested in this especially as I have bowel cancer in the family.
Helen Linnett April 5, 2013
I think this is an excellent idea when preventive measures come into there own
Dan Hughes-Morgan April 5, 2013
Thanks everyone for your comments. It’s great to hear so many of you are so positive about the developments, and about the impact bowel cancer screening has had on you and your relatives. We’ve tried to respond to as many of your queries as possible below. We hope they’re helpful – sorry we’re not able to respond to everyone by name.
Firstly, screening is intended to spot cancer before it shows any symptoms. If you have noticed a change in your body, like blood in your poo or a change in bowel habit that lasts longer than three weeks, please do not wait for an invitation to screening but go and see your doctor as soon as possible. There’s more information on the symptoms of bowel cancer here: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-help/type/bowel-cancer/about/bowel-cancer-symptoms.
Secondly, many of you asked about whether or not the test is available to you. The first thing is to look at whether you live in one of the six pilot areas for the new test – South of Tyne (Queen Elizabeth & South Tyneside), West Kent (West Kent & Medway), Norwich, St Marks (London), Wolverhampton and Surrey (Guildford). If you’re not in one of the pilot areas, Bowel Scope screening is unfortunately not yet available to you, but you’ll still be invited to take part in the existing FOBT bowel cancer screening programme at 60. People in your area will be invited for Bowel Scope screening when it is rolled out fully, which the screening programme is aiming to have completed by 2016.
If you are in one of the pilot areas, you’ll receive an invitation to Bowel Scope screening when you turn 55. If you decide not to take up BSS at this time, you can change your mind until you turn 60, and request a test by ringing your local screening centre. If you’re over 60, you are not able to request Bowel Scope screening, but you can still be screened with the existing test.
Whether or not you decide to have Bowel Scope screening, you will still receive an invitation to be screened using the existing FOBT test when you turn 60. If you’re over 70, you won’t be invited to take part in FOBT screening, but should you still want to take part in the programme you can request a kit by ringing the helpline: 0800 707 60 60. (Similarly, although you will stop receiving invitations to breast screening at 70 [or 73 in some areas], if you want to continue being screened you can request an appointment at your local screening centre).
A number of you asked about your family history, and whether you or your relatives would be able to get a test earlier. At the moment, it’s not possible to link screening programmes to people’s individual level of risk, and the age range screened is determined by the age at which most bowel cancers occur and where there has been evidence that screening has an overall benefit.
However, people who are outside the age range but have a high risk because of their family history or other bowel conditions can sometimes have surveillance tests. If you are concerned about your family history or risk of cancer you should talk to your GP.
Now some of the more specific questions:
Colin C, Patricia, Trisha – Each of the four UK nations (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) manages their cancer screening programmes separately. At the moment only England has made the decision to roll out Bowel Scope screening across the country but Scotland has committed to running a pilot of Bowel Scope screening over the next two years. We have been calling for all the UK nations to introduce Bowel Scope screening and we hope to see Wales and Northern Ireland make plans to run their own pilots as soon as possible so that everyone in the UK can benefit from the test.
Judy – Excellent question. The evidence has shown that Bowel Scope screening is a more effective test than FOBT at detecting and preventing bowel cancer in this age group. But you’re right, it is a more invasive test, and while we think the benefits outweigh the negatives, only you can make the decision whether or not to go for Bowel Scope screening.
Kerry – We’re very sorry to hear you were misdiagnosed for so long. Bowel cancer is extremely rare in younger people and so only those over 55 are offered screening – if younger people were screened, the potential risks would probably outweigh the benefits. But we know that cancer is often very hard to diagnose in younger people because it is so rare, and we need to do more to help promote earlier diagnosis of all cancers, at any age. If people are concerned, whatever age they are, they should see their GP. If you don’t feel your concerns are being heard, you can go to another doctor or go back to the same one to raise the issue again.
Lynn – Bowel cancer includes both cancer of the colon and rectum or back passage. This test can detect cancer and pre-cancerous polyps mainly of the rectum and lower colon.
Susan – We want all patients to get access to the treatments they need. We’re looking at the impact of recent changes to the NHS and the way treatments are provided to make sure cancer patients aren’t missing out.
Thanks again everyone for your interest and interesting queries.
Cancer Research UK
thora oliver April 5, 2013
THIS TEST AND ANY TEST FOR BOWEL PROBLEMS AT ANY AGE, I WAS 74 TWO YEARS AGO AND SENT FOR THE TEST BECAUSE I WAS HAVING PROBLEMS WITHIN 6 WEEKS I HAD THE FULL WORKS – RESULTS, COLONOSCOPY,CT SCAN MRI SCAN, AND OPERATION FOR DUKES 3 CANCER, i HAVE NEVER KNOWN THE ngs TO WORK SO QUICKLY – THANKS TO NHS AND MY OWN DETERMINATION I HAVE HAD A FURTHER SMALL OPERATION WHICH THIS TIME WAS BENIGN. SO KEEP PLUGGING FOR TESTING ALL AGES FOR THIS TERRIBLE DISEASE
cheryl crawford April 5, 2013
This is extremely good news….having lost a relative despite early diagnosis by the stool test
Amanda Lawson April 5, 2013
I was diagnosed at 25 yrs with advanced colo-rectal cancer, with no history of it in my family. It’s great news but there is always exceptions to the rule & that this test should be offered to all family members of sufferers as I never want my daughter to go through what I’ve been through.
Sheila A April 5, 2013
This is great news, & long overdue. However it seems to me that there is still a long way to go before every possibility is covered. My daughter was diagnosed with colorectal cancer at 23 years old. This was after several years with bowel problems but she was always told she was far to young to have any serious issues. She died when she was 27 years old.
Everybody should have this precautionary test from a much younger age & doctors should be far more open minded.
S kenyon April 5, 2013
Is this article saying you won’t be called if you are over 60? I have had the over 60 test and retuned it but it would be far more reassuring if the camera test was available to me?
Jay Bhayani April 5, 2013
Bobby died at 52. Why are we screening at 55?
Susan April 5, 2013
Any action being taken on the Government’s decision to stop Sir spheres treatment for folk suffering from metastatic Bowel/Colon cancers?
Ann Clenaghan April 5, 2013
My 29 yr old son has been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and has been on steroids for 4 years now.He cannot be far from toilet facilities for long periods and this is affecting every aspect of his life….not least of all, his marriage.When he asked the consultant if this was the beginning of bowel cancer he was told they wouldn’t even consider that unless he had been suffering this for 10 yrs……can he get this BSS test, or is he too young?
Jackie Gray April 5, 2013
Lots of positive comments, and agreed with 99pct of them. I have had IBS for as long as I can remember and constant problems with stool and piles. Not concerned but would never say no to a test to detect bowl cancer (or any cancer, Have been having breast screening for last 10 years due to employers health service) for peace of mind. am now 55.
Lynn April 5, 2013
Would this test discover colon cancer?
Ian Nichols April 5, 2013
Hi I am 57 and would love to have the test as I am unlucky in health, still luckey than a lot of people out there, but still ?
How do I get a test sheet please, Please get back to me.
Mandy Rowland April 5, 2013
My mother and grand father died of bowel cancer. Im 54 and live in London. Can I get one of these tests?
Sylvia Hart April 4, 2013
This is great news, but does this also the over 70?
Michelle Littlemore April 4, 2013
This is excellent news. As always with these initiatives never go far enough. My Dad was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer a couple of years ago and fortunately, after an operation, has made a full recovery. Consequently I asked if I could be screened but apparently as only one person in my family has been diagnosed then I didn’t qualify! I really wish, despite being 10 years away from the qualifying age, that due to my Dad being diagnosed with bowel cancer that I too would be a high risk case and therefore qualify for a screening:(