'More than half' ignored bowel cancer screening chance

Bowel cancer cell Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption The new invasive test for bowel cancer for 55-year-olds can detect early signs of the disease

Fewer than half of a group of 21,000 people invited for a bowel cancer screening test took up the offer, even though it may stop them developing the illness, say Cancer Research UK.

Only 45% of men and 42% of women who had the chance to take part in a trial were screened.

But researchers said uptake for the new invasive test was encouraging at this early stage.

The test involves a flexible tube being inserted inside the large bowel.

The NHS Bowel Scope Screening Programme is being trialled in six areas of England and is due to be rolled out by 2018.

With 95% of bowel cancer cases developing in people aged 50 and over, the one-off test for 55-year-olds is designed to detect and remove pre-cancerous polyps.

A tiny camera, on the end of the flexible tube, allows a specially-trained nurse or doctor to look inside the bowel for signs of cancer.

Studies have indicated that bowel scope screening could reduce bowel cancer cases by up to 33% and deaths by up to 43% among those who took the test.

Not familiar test

When analysing the results of the screening trial, Cancer Research UK found that more than half of those invited did not come for their screening appointment and people from poorer neighbourhoods were less likely to take up the offer than those in affluent areas.

Dr Christian von Wagner, senior lecturer in behavioural research in early diagnosis of cancer at University College London, said it was still early days for the new 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," he said.

"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."

However, he said it was worrying that people living in poorer areas seemed less likely to take advantage of the screening.

He is now trying to find out why people may not have had the test and work out how to encourage more people to take part in future.

Clear information

Dr Julie Sharp, head of health and patient information at Cancer Research UK, said the screening programme had potential to prevent bowel cancer and detect it early, but it was always a personal choice.

"You don't need to have symptoms for this test to be effective, but people can choose whether or not to have it and it's important that they receive clear information so they can decide what's right for them."

The aim is that 75% of 55-year-olds will take up the offer of the test by 2020, she said.

As part of the NHS bowel cancer screening programme, people aged 60 to 74 are sent a DIY testing kit every two years, which looks for hidden blood in their stools, to help pick up bowel cancer.

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