Detecting bowel cancer early

One million new diagnoses of bowel cancer are made worldwide each year. This human tragedy is costing the NHS more than £1 billion annually. However, a new, simple and cost effective screening test developed by researchers at Imperial College London has proved so effective that this form of cancer could become a rare disease.

bowel cancer

The one-off flexible sigmoidoscopy test, the ‘flexi-sig’, is less invasive than the standard colonoscopy as it examines just the lower part of the colon.

Carried out at the age of 60, the test can detect and enable the removal of the polyps which later cause colorectal cancer. Previous approaches to screening missed half of all instances of polyps – considerably reducing the chances of recovery and survival.

A UK-wide trial involving 170,000 people showed that 11 years after a single screening of men and women aged between 55 and 64, incidences of the cancer reduced by a third and mortality by 43%, with substantial savings for the NHS.

The success of the screening prompted a government investment of £60 million over four years to roll out the test nationwide from 2013, and this is expected to cover the
entire population by 2016. It has been estimated that the screening could prevent 3,000 deaths in the UK every year.

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