Nationwide screening for bowel cancer would save more than 2,700 lives a year, scientists claimed yesterday.
A successful two-year pilot scheme found early signs of bowel cancer in hundreds of patients. Researchers say a national screening programme such as the ones for breast cancer and cervical cancer would reduce deaths by 17 per cent.
The results of the University of Edinburgh study will boost Government plans to roll out such a programme across the country.
Bowel, or colorectal, cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related death in Britain, after lung cancer. Around 34,000 people are diagnosed with the disease every year and it causes more than 16,000 deaths.
Footballer Bobby Moore, captain of England's World Cup winning team of 1966, died of the disease in 1993 aged 51.
The Edinburgh study tested for blood in faecal samples - an early sign of the disease - among people from Tayside, Grampian, Fife and the West Midlands. Around 300 people who were found to have positive results were offered further tests and treatment.
An evaluation of the screening trial, funded by the Department of
Health, was led by Professors Freda Alexander and David Weller from the university's Department of Community Health Sciences.
Prof Weller said: 'We found that faecal occult blood testing (FOBt) screening is feasible in the UK population.
'We are recommending to the Department of Health that FOBt screening, if introduced, should be part of a package of new national strategies targeting colorectal cancer.'
Diets high in red meat and low in vegetables and fibre can increase the risk of suffering from bowel cancer, as does family history of the disease.
A history of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are also important factors. Ninety per cent of patients are over 50, and the cancer affects a slightly greater number men than women.
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