Bowel cancer death rate falling faster in the UK than in most other EU countries

In collaboration with the Press Association
Faecal occult blood (FOB) test is on of the bowel cancer screening options available in the UK.

The UK’s bowel cancer death rate is falling faster than most other European countries, according to a new study from an international team of researchers.

"Better treatment and greater symptom awareness are likely to be the two biggest factors contributing to [the fall in the death rate]." - Dr Rebecca Smittenaar, Cancer Research UK

The researchers examined changes in bowel cancer mortality by age and sex across 34 European countries between 1970 and 2011.

From 1989 to 2011 across all countries, bowel cancer mortality increased by an average of six per cent for men and decreased by an average of 15 per cent for women.

In the UK, reductions in bowel cancer mortality of more than 25 per cent in men and 30 per cent in women were recorded.

Dr Rebecca Smittenaar, Cancer Research UK’s statistics manager, said: “These figures show an encouraging fall in the death rate from bowel cancer in the UK. It’s thanks to research that we see this 30 per cent reduction since the end of the 1980s. Better treatment and greater symptom awareness are likely to be the two biggest factors contributing to this." 

The study, published in The BMJ, also suggests the increased survival could be attributed to high levels of screening, particularly endoscopic screening.

Endoscopic screening allows specialists to look inside the lower bowel and remove any small growths called ‘polyps’, which can turn cancerous if left untreated.

It is one of two bowel cancer screening options available to adults in the UK. The other is an FOB (faecal occult blood) test, which checks for the presence of blood in a poo sample – a potential early sign of the disease.

"It’s also important to note that these data don’t show the impact that the bowel cancer screening programme will have had. It was only introduced relatively recently, so we would expect there to be a further fall in the rate at which people die from the disease,” added Dr Smittenaar. 

References

  • Ait Ouakrim Driss, Pizot Cécile, Boniol Magali, Malvezzi Matteo, Boniol Mathieu, Negri Eva et al. Trends in colorectal cancer mortality in Europe: retrospective analysis of the WHO mortality database  2015;  351 :h4970