Charity predicts 20,000 fewer deaths from bowel cancer

Cancer Research UK

Cancer Research UK today predicts a huge drop in deaths from bowel cancer if people use the self testing kit that is being sent to men and women in their sixties throughout the country.

Researchers have calculated there would be up to 20,000 fewer deaths over the next 20 years if just 60 per cent of those eligible for bowel screening went ahead with the simple test.

The kit is being sent out to people aged between 60 and 69 as part of the national bowel cancer screening programme that the NHS is gradually rolling out in the UK*.

And if even more people completed the test the decrease in mortality would be even greater. Researchers calculated that an 80 per cent uptake would result in as many as 25,000 deaths from bowel cancer being prevented over the next 20 years.

These figures, based on a pilot of the bowel screening programme and predictive scientific modelling, launch Cancer Research UK's 2007 campaign - Screening Matters - in which the charity is urging government to get an extra three million eligible people to take up invitations to breast, cervical and bowel screening.

Professor Max Parkin, Cancer Research UK epidemiologist at the Wolfson Institute, London, said: "Our research looked at a realistic scenario where uptake is about 60 per cent and compared those results with an optimistic scenario where uptake could rise to 80 percent. In both cases thousands of deaths could be prevented. But for the purpose of this calculation we assumed 20 per cent of people wouldn’t do this test."

There are around 35,000 cases of bowel cancer diagnosed each year in the UK. And more than 16,000 people die from the disease. Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK.

The bowel screening programme's self test kit is designed to allow people to take faecal samples in the privacy of their own home and send them for testing. If any blood is found they are then invited for a colonoscopy. The test should be repeated every two years.

Matthew Wright, presenter of the Channel 5 show The Wright Stuff and patron of the Bobby Moore Fund for Cancer Research UK, yesterday spoke in support of the Bowel Screening Programme following his own fear of bowel cancer.

"Bowel cancer has torn through my family, taking both my father and grandfather. But the bowel cancer screening programme is a fantastic opportunity for people to be checked. It is a simple test, easy to do in your home and a way of putting your mind at rest. I hope everyone who is sent a kit makes sure they use it."

David Phillips, 67, a retired swimming coach from Coventry, was part of the pilot bowel screening programme and was sent a test kit in 2001. Initially reluctant, his wife persuaded him to do the test and the result showed blood in the sample. The test was repeated and Mr Phillips was asked to have a colonoscopy. Bowel cancer was diagnosed and he had surgery two weeks later. He is now fully recovered and has six-monthly check-ups.

He said: "I think I was very lucky that the screening test picked up on something that could have developed into a much worse situation. Early diagnosis was the reason I have made such a good recovery.

"The bowel screening programme is certainly the way forward as it could help so many people as it helped me. Without screening I probably would not have known that I had cancer, but thanks to screening I am here to tell the story."

Maxine Taylor, Cancer Research UK's executive director of policy and communications, said: "These new predictions indicate how valuable the NHS bowel screening programme will be in cutting the rising toll of bowel cancer deaths. It is important that the programme is rolled out as efficiently and quickly as possible so that the maximum number of eligible men and women can benefit.

"Our campaign will urge politicians to encourage an extra three million people to attend breast, bowel and cervical screening when they are invited and to ensure the best possible programmes are available. The campaign will seek to raise greater awareness among the public so that they take advantage of these programmes that all help to save lives."

Screening Matters is calling for a commitment from the government to:

  • Screen at least three million more people over the next five years
  • Reduce the variation in screening across the UK
  • Reach out to people eligible for screening who aren’t taking part
  • Provide the best possible screening programmes through funding, staffing and measuring success

The campaign will also ask supporters to sign a pledge card, available from Cancer Research UK shops, showing their support for the political aims and to make a personal pledge that they will attend screening when invited. Or visit: www.cancercampaigns.org.uk.

ENDS

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Notes to Editor

  • The research was based on the English model starting in 2007. In Scotland and Wales the target age group for screening is 50-74; Northern Ireland has yet to announce plans for a bowel screening programme.

The self test for bowel cancer is called the Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT). The testing kit is sent to eligible people who are asked to take faecal samples on three separate occasions and then send them away for analysis. If abnormalities are found a colonoscopy is the next step.

In many cases small pre-cancerous growths, detected by colonoscopy, can be removed and bowel cancer is prevented from developing.

The FOBT is expected to pick up around half of any cancers but the researchers used a conservative estimate of around four in 10 for their calculations.

For more information on Screening Matters visit www.cancercampaigns.org.uk.

Who is eligible for screening?

  • BREAST: Women aged between 50-70 years are invited for a mammogram every three years. After the age of 70 women can request their GP to arrange a mammogram.
  • CERVICAL: Women between the ages of 25 and 49 are invited for screening every three years; from 50-64 invitations are every five years.
  • BOWEL: Men and women aged between 60-69 are being invited for screening every two years.

Age ranges may vary in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (see previous note)

Cancer Research UK is working with a number of other charities on developing the Screening Matters campaign including Beating Bowel Cancer and Breast Cancer Care.

Cancer screening saves lives. But we know it could save even more. Sign our pledge to show your support for our Screening Matters campaign calling on the UK governments to commit to getting more people into cancer screening and making sure the best possible programmes are available.