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ALTERNATIVE BOWEL CANCER SCREENING TEST COULD RADICALLY CUT DEATHS FROM THE DISEASE

Posted Apr 29 2010 7:59am

A new study suggests that a single examination of the bowel could cut the death rate from bowel cancer in people aged over fifty five by as much as forty three per cent!

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the world, & it has a high mortality rate. In the UK alone it affects over thirty seven thousand people each year, with more than sixteen thousand people dying as a result.

It is well known that screening tests can cut the number of deaths from bowel cancer by detecting the early stages of the disease in people who appear to be healthy. Current NHS screening for bowel cancer uses testing of stool samples for minute traces of blood. It is available to all those over sixty in England & Wales, & all those over fifty in Scotland.

Researchers continue to look for the best methods of screening for bowel cancer. The new study used a procedure called flexible sigmoidoscopy which constitutes a tube with a small camera on the end being inserted into the final section of the bowel.

There is the possibility of side effects with the procedure, but they are rare. It can result in a tear to the wall of the bowel, a potentially dangerous complication which requires immediate surgery to repair. During the study under discussion only one person suffered a perforation in this way.

This test has the advantage that – as well as being able to detect the early stages of the disease - it can detect pre-cancerous polyps which can then be removed before they can become cancerous. It is thus a preventative measure as well as allowing for early treatment where the disease has already developed.

The new study looked at more than one hundred & seventy thousand people across fourteen different hospitals in the UK. The participants were selected from people who fitted the criteria - both men & women - & who had indicated on a previous questionnaire that they would be willing to select an invitation for screening. They were then randomly allocated to two groups, one group who underwent the flexible sigmoidoscopy screening procedure & the other group who were not screened.

The research was carried out over eleven years. It found that flexible sigmoidoscopy on only the one occasion cut the number of deaths from bowel cancer by about one third. These results confirmed the original hypothesis of the researchers that ‘that only one flexible sigmoidoscopy screening between 55 and 64 years of age can substantially reduce colorectal cancer incidence and mortality.’

Polyps typically form in the bowel by the time people are in their late fifties. In theory removing them after they have been detected by flexible sigmoidoscopy screening could give long lasting protection against bowel cancer. As this study was limited to following people for only eleven years, we don’t know for definite that protection would last for longer than this.

The researchers concluded that ‘Flexible sigmoidoscopy is a safe and practical test and, when offered only once between ages 55 and 64 years, confers a substantial and long-lasting benefit.’



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