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Five-minute bowel cancer test could save thousands of lives


A one-off screening test for bowel cancer later in life could help cut the risk of dying from the disease by about 40% potentially saving more than 6,000 lives a year, according to a study published in the Lancet.

In the study, 170,434 men and women aged between 55 and 64 underwent an examination of the lower colon and rectum. Cases of the disease fell by a third and the death rate declined by 43%.

The examination, called sigmoidoscopy, is a simple procedure where a camera mounted on a thin, flexible tube is inserted around a third of the way into the bowel.

Most bowel cancers stem from polyps or symptomless growths in the rectum and colon and where these were found they were removed in a safe and pain-free procedure.

Professor Wendy Atkin, from Imperial College London, who led the research, said: “Our study shows for the first time that we could dramatically reduce the incidence of bowel cancer, and the number of people dying from the disease, by using this one-off test.

“No other bowel cancer screening technique has ever been shown to prevent the disease.”

Researchers said the test could save thousands of lives every year and spare tens of thousands of people the trauma and suffering of cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Bowel cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK and the second biggest cancer killer after lung cancer, claiming the lives of around 16,000 people a year.

Click here to read the study in the Lancet


Readers' comments (5)

  • As an endoscopy nurse I would have to say, flexi sigs take longer than 5 minutes and what about the polyps, tumours that may be elsewhere in the bowel?

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  • Good idea, doesn't matter how long it takes, make it routine for all after a certain age like cervical screening. Anything to get on top of one of the biggests killers.

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  • Saw an easier method on TV embarrassing problems,one swollows a small disc that photos ones bowels, quick, effective and not as time consuming as flexi sigs. etc, intervention is only required if an abnormality is noted

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  • As nurses we should be encouraging uptake on the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening programme that is offered 2 yearly to those between the ages of 60-69. This is now being extended to 75.

    This is a simple home test for foecal Occult blood. We need to support this and improve health education at every opportunity to overcome the obvious embarassment that prevents many people, especially men taking part.

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  • Not only the patients but us nurses should be screened too. Our health is not looked after by the NHS. I have heard of some companies that get free chiropody treatment and other nice perks.

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