Simple test to save 3,000 from bowel cancer every year

3,000 lives could be saved through bowel cancer test

Millions of people are to be allowed to take a simple test that could significantly lower their risk of developing bowel cancer.

By Martin Beckford, Health Correspondent 6:15AM BST 07 Apr 2011

As many as 3,000 lives could be saved every year and many diseases could be detected earlier, saving the NHS money, by the decision of the UK National Screening Committee to recommend the procedure for all those aged between 55 and 59.

Figures suggest that using a short one-off test for bowel cancer among middle-aged Britons could reduce incidence rates by 33 per cent and death rates by 43 per cent.

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “Recent trial results of this method of detecting and removing polyps before they develop into bowel cancer can truly be called a breakthrough.

“We believe this method will save thousands of lives every year once fully rolled out.

“Because it will prevent so many cancers, adding this test to the bowel screening programme will spare tens of thousands of families the anxiety and suffering associated with a cancer diagnosis, while also saving the NHS money.”

About 40,000 people in Britain develop bowel cancer each year and more than 16,000 die from it.

Currently, those aged 60 to 69 are able to send off stool samples for bowel cancer testing, in what is known as the faecal occult blood (FOB) test. This programme will be extended to include those up to the age of 75.

But the new test, known as flexible sigmoidoscopy (FlexiSig), will be available to all those aged between 55 to 59 in Britain, several million people.

The 20-minute test allows doctors to examine the wall of the bowel using a tiny camera mounted on a flexible tube, and then to remove potentially cancerous growths called polyps using special tools attached to the probe.

It is not clear when the screening programme will be introduced to the NHS, however.

Prof Julietta Patnick, Director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, said: “We welcome the UK National Screening Committee’s recommendation to introduce FlexiSig for bowel cancer screening; it will be an important addition to our existing bowel cancer screening programme.

“We will be busy over the next few months developing the processes and Quality Assurance procedures that will be needed in order to deliver this new service safely and effectively.”

Care services minister Paul Burstow said: “Bowel cancer is one of the biggest killers in England. That is why we are investing £60 million over the next four years to fund flexible sigmoidoscopy and why we recently launched a campaign to make people more aware of the early signs of cancer.

“We hope that these measures will help us achieve our goal of having cancer outcomes among the best in the world.”