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)
- London (St Marks)
- 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”
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.