Around 40 000 people are diagnosed each year in the UK with bowel cancer.
A bowel cancer population-screening program is now running throughout the UK using a simple stool test.
At the recent National Cancer Intelligence Network conference in Birmingham, researchers using data from the West Midlands Cancer Intelligence Unit presented a study looking at bowel cancers in the region between January 2006 and September 2011 in people aged 60-69. In total there were 5,633 cancers of which 904 were detected by screening.
Researchers compared the stage at diagnosis of bowel cancers picked up by screening and those identified from symptoms.
18.5% of bowel cancers detected by screening were at the earliest stage compared with 9.4% of the cancers detected in patients with symptoms.
Late stage (advanced) cancers were more commonly found in patients with symptoms than in the screened population.
When bowel cancer is diagnosed in its earliest stage more than 90% of patients will survive for at least 5 years
There are several studies, which show that bowel cancer screening does save lives. The West Midlands data show that bowel screening picks up cancers at an earlier stage where cure is more likely.
There remains concern about the low uptake of the bowel cancer screening by the population as a whole and particularly amongst men.
It is important that when that kit arrives, you complete test. The testing is not always diagnostic, if you have any unexplained bowel symptoms or bleeding you should always seek medical advice irrespective of the test result.
Simon Radley July 2012