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Reminder letter encourages more people to take bowel scope screening test

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by Cancer Research UK | News

30 March 2016

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Jogging the memory with a reminder letter to those who don’t respond to their bowel scope screening invitation could mean more people would take the test, according to a Cancer Research UK-funded study published in the British Journal of Cancer*.

“Sending a reminder letter is a simple, cheap and effective way of encouraging more people to go for their one-off bowel scope test.” – Dr Christian Von Wagner

The study showed that of 155 people who received the reminder letter, 30 chose to book an appointment. Of those, 24 were tested as some cancelled or didn’t show up.

This equates to three extra people taking the test for every 20 who received the follow-up letter which was sent out 12 months after the first bowel scope invitation had been ignored.

The research was carried out with people previously invited for bowel scope screening in the London Boroughs of Brent and Harrow where fewer people than the national average accept their bowel scope invitation.

An average of around four in 10 people in England accepted the one-off offer by NHS England for a flexible sigmoidoscopy screening test.

The researchers chose a group at random from people who did not respond to their initial bowel scope invitation. The reminder included instructions on how to book an appointment, a choice of available times and dates, and an option to choose a male or female tester.

The study found that most people opted to choose the gender of their tester suggesting this could influence a person’s decision to take the test.

The bowel scope screening programme offers a one-off test for 55 year olds, which involves a trained nurse or doctor using a long, flexible tube containing a tiny camera to look inside the large bowel, where most polyps and bowel cancers start.

Bowel scope can help prevent cancer by removing pre-cancerous polyps and detect cancer at an early stage when treatment is more likely to be successful.

Dr Christian von Wagner, lead author of the study at University College London, said: “Sending a reminder letter is a simple, cheap and effective way of encouraging more people to go for their one-off bowel scope test. We think this is something that could be explored further to see if we can boost the number of people getting tested.”

Professor Matt Seymour, Cancer Research UK’s bowel cancer expert said: “Bowel cancer is the second biggest cause of cancer death in the UK. Having a one-off scope test at age 55 can find and remove polyps before they ever have the chance to become cancerous, and is a great addition to our existing faeces blood screening tests for people over 60.

“But it can only work if people actually turn up for their scope, and currently that’s only 4 or 5 of every 10 people invited. So it’s good to find that something as simple as a reminder can get more people to come forward, and to learn more about how we can encourage more people to take advantage of this potentially life-saving test. It’s important that people receive clear information about bowel screening so that they can decide what’s best for them”


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* Kerrison et al., Use of a twelve months’ self-referral reminder to facilitate uptake of bowel scope (flexible sigmoidoscopy) screening in previous non-responders: a London-based feasibility study. British Journal of Cancer, 2016.