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Poorer patients ‘less likely’ to have new bowel cancer test

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Patients from less affluent backgrounds will need more encouragement than others to take up invitations for a new bowel cancer screening test, a study has indicated.

Under the NHS Bowel Scope Screening Programme, a one-off test will be offered to all 55-year-olds, in which a clinician uses flexible sigmoidoscopy to look for pre-cancerous polyps.

The programme is being phased in across England and is due to be fully rolled out by 2018.

It will run alongside and enhance the current bowel cancer screening programme, in which a faecal occult blood testing kit is sent every two years to people aged 60 to 74 in England.

Researchers assessed how many of the 21,000 people sent an appointment in six pilot areas went ahead with screening. The pilot sites are:

  • Queen Elizabeth and South Tyneside
  • West Kent (West Kent and Medway)
  • Norwich
  • London (St Marks)
  • Wolverhampton
  • Surrey (Guildford)

Based on evidence from the pilots, the Cancer Research UK study found that overall 43.1% of patients invited to undergo screening went on to attend their appointment during the first 14 months of the programme.

In addition, it found people from poorer neighbourhoods were less likely to take up screening. Only 32.7% in the most deprived areas attended an appointment, compared to 53.2% in the most affluent.

“What we found worrying was that people living in poorer areas seem less likely to take advantage of this screening”

Christian von Wagner

Despite the low turnout, the researchers said they were “encouraged” by the results, as the screening programme was currently only being piloted and therefore public awareness was low.

The study, published in the Journal of Medical Screening, also found other social trends in screening attendance.

In the most ethnically diverse area, 39% of patients opted to have the test, compared to 45% in the least ethnically diverse area.

Meanwhile, slightly more men (45%) attended screening than women (42%).

Study leader Dr Christian von Wagner, from University College London, said: “These are early days for the new bowel scope programme – there hasn’t been a publicity campaign about it yet, and bowel screening is generally not as familiar to people as breast-screening mammograms or cervical-screening smear tests. 

“With that in mind, we were encouraged by the level of uptake in the pilot areas for a fairly new and invasive test, and we were surprised that more men were willing to have the test than women,” said Dr von Wagner.

“Research like this can identify practical barriers that stop people taking up the test when they would like to have it”

Julie Sharp

But he said: “What we found worrying was that people living in poorer areas seem less likely to take advantage of this screening.”

He added: “There are lots of reasons why people, wherever they live, might not have the test – and these can include practical barriers such as embarrassment about the procedure or problems taking time off work to keep the appointment.”

Dr Julie Sharp, head of health and patient information at Cancer Research UK, said the new screening programme had “great potential” to both prevent bowel cancer and detect it early.

“Research like this can identify practical barriers that stop people taking up the test when they would like to have it,” she said.

Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK, with around 16,200 people dying each year.

  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • This article is put together terribly. The headline is that poorer patient are less likely to play ball, but the article then states that it is people in deprived areas. That is quite different from actually being poorer (poorer than what?). You conflate less affluent areas with personal poverty - financial and of thought, I assume?

    The article also states that ethnically diverse areas have a lower participation-rate - what do you mean by 'ethnically diverse', and how does this differ from race? If 'ethnic diversity' = lower participation, then why use the 'poorer' headline rather than the ethnic diversity headline? Is it because these 'ethnically diverse' people are poorer? You might have also referred to women not being so likely as men, which in itself is quite interesting.

    You need to stop using 'poorer' and 'ethnicity' buzz words without explanation. Many people consider their ethnicity to be working-class. Others, middle-class. Anyone who understands the class-system will know it to be largely culturally - and therefore, ethnicity - than purely financial. This article is so annoying. The media always use a Caucasian person to denote anything negative - this is odd to me, as I was born in an area that is now, largely, non-Caucasian. I wonder how non-Caucasians understand themselves and their health needs when they are hardly ever depicted? This magazine is lazy in its image-stock and article-detail.

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