Study confirms 'flexi scope' test reduces bowel cancer deaths

In collaboration with the Press Association

A bowel cancer screening test, soon to be introduced in England, reduces the number of new cases and deaths from the disease, a US study has confirmed.

The results from the PLCO Trial showed that screening using flexible sigmoidoscopy, or 'flexi-scope', reduced the number of deaths from bowel cancer by 26 per cent, and the number of new cases by 21 per cent.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at 154,900 men and women aged 55 to 74 years who either had screening with flexi-scope or standard care. People in the standard care group only received screening if they asked for it, or if their physician recommended it.

In the flexi-scope group, men and women were screened at the beginning of the study and again three years to five years later. After 12 years, there were significantly fewer cases of bowel cancer and deaths from the disease in this group.

There were 1,012 new cases of bowel cancer in the screening group, compared with 1,287 in the standard care group. And there were 252 deaths in the screening group, compared with 341 in the standard care group.

The results mean that if a group of 1,000 people were given two flexi-scope screenings over 10 years, there would be approximately three fewer new cases and one fewer death, compared with a group receiving standard screenings.

Stufy author Dr Christine Berg, from the US National Cancer Institute, said: "The most important message is that, regardless of modality chosen, colorectal cancer screening lowers mortality from colorectal cancer, and all individuals 50 and over should be screened."

The NHS in England is set to introduce a one-off flexi-scope test to the bowel screening programme for all men and women when they reach 55. It will use a camera and light at the end of a flexible tube to detect cancer or pre-cancerous growths in the lower parts of the bowel.

This will be in addition to the bowel screening kits people receive in the post known as the Faecal Occult Blood Testing (FOBT), which looks for hidden traces of blood in stools - a possible symptom of existing bowel cancer.

Around 40,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year and almost 16,000 die from the disease.

Hazel Nunn, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, said: "This is further confirmation that bowel screening with flexi-scope can reduce the chances of developing and dying from bowel cancer. Other types of bowel screening, including the FOBT currently available to older men and women in the UK, are also known to save lives from bowel cancer.

"It will be a few years before flexi-scope is widely available in the UK - we need the Department of Health in England to ensure this technique is rolled out quickly and effectively, and each of the devolved nations to pledge to use flexi-scope in their screening programmes and to begin preparing for this change now."

She also urged people to take up the opportunity to be tested using FOBT and said it is one of the most effective ways to cut the chances of dying from bowel cancer.

Copyright Press Association 2012


  • Schoen, R. et al. (2012). Colorectal-Cancer Incidence and Mortality with Screening Flexible Sigmoidoscopy N Engl J Med DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1114635