Bowel cancer screening could halve emergency admissions

In collaboration with the Press Association

A UK study that has been collecting data for five years suggests that bowel cancer screening could significantly reduce the number of emergency hospital admissions and deaths due to the disease.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Programme began to be rolled out in England in 2006, with the entire country expected to be covered by 2009.

The latest results from a study of the pilot scheme in Coventry and north Warwickshire show that screening has halved the number of emergency hospital admissions due to bowel cancer and significantly cut the number of deaths from the disease in the area.

The region has been piloting a home screening kit involving a faecal occult blood test, which looks for blood in the stools, one of the main indicators of cancerous and pre-cancerous changes in the gut.

A total of 187,777 men between the ages of 50 and 69 were invited to collect and post stool samples twice a year.

During the first round of screening tests, 1.9 per cent of participants tested positive and were invited to be assessed for colonoscopy, resulting in a bowel cancer detection rate of 1.62 per 1,000 procedures.

During the second round, 1.8 per cent of 127,746 participants received positive test results, resulting in around 1,000 screening colonoscopies and an overall cancer detection rate of 0.94 per 1,000.

The researchers found that in 1999 - prior to the postal testing system - nearly 30 per cent of bowel cancer patients had to be admitted to hospital as emergency cases, but this figure had fallen to less than 16 per cent by 2004.

The number of emergency operations fell by 50 per cent and there was a fall in deaths within 30 days from 48 per cent in 1999 to 13 per cent in 2004.

However, the researchers noted that there appeared to be a fall in the number of people taking the opportunity to use the home testing kit, from 57 per cent of invited participants in the first round of screening tests to 52 per cent in the second round.

The study was led by Stephen Goodyear, of University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, and is published in the British Medical Journal journal Gut.