Help us to stop bowel cancer

Colonoscopy lowers rates of bowel cancer in some patients with intermediate risk polyps

Thursday 4 May 2017

New research from Imperial College London shows regular colonoscopy (a test to examine the inside of the bowel) in patients with intermediate risk polyps (non-cancerous growths) significantly lowers rates of bowel cancer.

The study, led by Bowel Cancer UK medical advisor, Professor Wendy Atkin, looked at patients who, after an initial investigation, were diagnosed with ‘intermediate risk’ polyps that could potentially develop into bowel cancer in the future. In the UK these patients are offered colonoscopy every three years as a form of surveillance.

The researchers looked at data across an eight year time period, and further defined patients into lower-risk and higher-risk subgroups. Those at higher risk (about three-quarters of the group) clearly benefited from three-yearly colonoscopy, which significantly reduced the number of people diagnosed with bowel cancer. But in those classed as lower risk, the benefit was less clear, suggesting alternative follow up strategies could be more effective in these patients.

Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK, says:

“This significant research is the first to assess the long term impact of regular colonoscopy in people at intermediate risk of bowel cancer. Whilst it’s reassuring that many patients do benefit from this form of surveillance, ensuring that our scarce endoscopy resources are directed to those who most benefit is crucial.

Although longer term studies are needed, this important research has the potential to reduce the increasing demand on endoscopy units and should be used to help inform future polyp surveillance strategies and decrease unnecessary tests in people that won’t benefit. 

This research is another much needed piece of the jigsaw to solving the ongoing crisis in diagnostic services for bowel cancer. However, we also need a national endoscopy strategy and training programme to address the significant capacity gap that currently exists in the system. Without these vital next steps, services will continue to struggle to provide timely and high quality care to all.”

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