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.