Routine screening can cut bowel cancer deaths by more than a quarter, new research has shown.
A Scottish study found that death rates were 27% lower among people who participated in a bowel screening programme.
Bowel cancer screening involves posting small stool samples to a laboratory where they are tested for hidden traces of blood. The technique is known as the faecal occult blood test (FOBt).
The new trial, funded by the Scottish Government Health Department, is the first to show the full impact of employing FOBt for population-wide screening.
Professor Robert Steele, from the Bowel Screening Research Centre in Dundee, said: “For the first time, we can see the effects of an FOBt-based colorectal cancer screening programme in the real world of the NHS.”
More than 370,000 people aged 50 to 69 from three of Scotland’s 14 health boards were invited to take part in the pilot study between 2000 and 2007. All were sent an FOBt kit through the post and invited to return a sample for analysis.
The progress of participants was monitored until the end of 2009. Death rates were matched against those for a similar number of people from Scottish health boards not taking part in the trial.
The results, presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference in Liverpool, showed 10% fewer bowel cancer deaths among all those invited for screening.
However, around 40% of people who were asked to take part never sent back a sample. When only those actually tested were included, the reduction in deaths rose to 27%.