The launch of a bowel cancer screening programme for the over-60s has caused an increase in the number of cases being caught early.
Between 2006 and 2008, there was a 12% rise in bowel cancer rates among people aged 60 to 69 in England, according to data from Cancer Research UK.
The screening programme was introduced in 2006, and after being rolled out nationally it can be used by men and women in England aged 60 to 74.
A home testing kit is provided in the post, and all participants need to do is send back a stool sample that will then be analysed. Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland also run similar schemes.
The latest figures have revealed that before the programme was established, rates of bowel cancer among the over-60s did not increase more than 2.1% in any two years over the last 10.
Rates began increasing in 2007, after the screening was introduced, and were up 6% on the previous year.
Signs of bowel cancer include bleeding from the rectum, a change in toilet habits such as prolonged diarrhoea or looser stools, a straining feeling when using the toilet, weight loss and pain in the abdomen or rectum.
But the screening test - known as the faecal occult blood test (FOBT) - picks up minuscule traces of blood which can be an early sign of bowel cancer.
More than 90% of people whose bowel cancer is caught in the earliest stages will live at least five years.
Fewer than one in 20 live this long if the disease is diagnosed at an advanced stage.
Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK, with almost 40,000 new cases each year.
More than eight out of 10 bowel cancers are diagnosed in people aged 60 or over.
Catherine Thomson, Cancer Research UK’s head of statistics, said: “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.”
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