The impact of bowel cancer screening

Posted by Kym Provan on

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With up to 50 people a day dying from bowel cancer it is fantastic to see that the NHS screening programme is showing signs of successfully tackling early detection of the disease. Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK with more than 37,500 people being diagnosed with it each year.

The NHS bowel cancer screening programme was introduced in 2006. The aim is to catch tumours in the bowel at the earliest possible stage for those people in their 60's. If a tumour is found in the early stages then it's likely that 90% of patients will survive for 5 years, once the tumour becomes advanced, only 5% of patients are likely to survive for 5 years.

The screening programme is simple. It tests small stool samples for tiny traces of blood. Screening kits are sent to your home directly for you to complete and return and the results are sent back through the post as well. It couldn't be easier for people to do and the charity Beating Bowel Cancer is encouraging everyone who is offered the test to take it.

The results from the screening programme speak for themselves. In 2006 when the screening programme was introduced, the rate of bowel cancer cases was 143.5 per 100,000 in people aged 60 to 69. By 2008 this figure had increased to 161.5 per 100,000 which is an increase of more than 12%. Proof that the disease is being detected earlier.

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Although the screening programme is making huge waves I have to criticise that fact that if you are outside the age range currently offered screening tests, then there is no screening available to you on the NHS. Given that 80% of those who contract the disease are over the age of 60 I can see why the NHS has limited the programme in this way. However bowel cancer can go undetected for so long and is often at an advanced stage by the time it is discovered, leaving little hope for those diagnosed, surely the NHS should not be cutting out younger people who may be affected. The web is littered with stories of people as young as 21 dying of this disease. People of all ages should be made aware of the seriousness of bowel cancer and access to the screening programme should be given to all.

Everybody should be alert to the symptoms of possible bowel cancer. If you notice any of the following, arrange an urgent appointment with your GP to have this checked out:

  • Rectal bleeding 
  • Persistent change in bowel habits. Are you going to the toilet more? Are your stools often looser? 
  • Abdominal pain in your right side
  • Lump in your tummy
  • Tiredness and weight loss


And finally, take preventative measures now. The Top 5 Tips on how to prevent the disease area.

1. Change your diet, those people who have a diet of high fibre and low saturated fats reduce the risk of bowel cancer. Cut out the red or processed meats!

2. Get active if you are obese or inactive, you increase the risk of developing bowel cancer by 50%!

3. Get outdoors being outside will increase your vitamin D levels which have been shown to reduce the risk of developing the disease.

4. Check your family history - if bowel cancer runs in the family your risk of developing bowel cancer is much higher.

5. Cut out the smoking and alcohol smokers are more likely to develop polyps in their bowel than non-smokers.

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About the Author

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Kym specialises in clinical negligence claims and heads our clinical negligence team in Southampton.

Kym Provan
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023 8085 7317

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