Help us to stop bowel cancer

Life-saving bowel scope screening test at risk

Wednesday 22 February 2017

Today (Wednesday 22 February) a study published in the medical journal The Lancet has revealed a one-off bowel screening test can prevent bowel cancer developing and saves thousands of lives.

The research, led by Bowel Cancer UK medical advisor Professor Wendy Atkin, Professor of Gastrointestinal Epidemiology from Imperial College London and funded through a Medical Research Council (MRC) and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) partnership and Cancer Research UK, found that the NHS bowel scope screening test prevented more than half of potential bowel cancers from developing in the lower bowel and two thirds of deaths were avoided.

Bowel scope screening involves using a thin, flexible tube with a camera on the end to look inside the lower part of your bowel (the lower left side of your colon and rectum). This is called a flexible sigmoidoscopy. The test looks for, and removes, any non-cancerous growths (polyps) that could develop into cancer over time. It is a one-off test being offered to some people at the age of 55, as part of the bowel cancer screening programme in England.

This is in addition to the current test, the faecal occult blood test (FOBt), which is posted to people aged 60-74.

The Government previously committed to train 200 non-medical endoscopists to fully deliver bowel scope screening as part of the England Cancer Strategy published in 2015.

Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive, Bowel Cancer UK, said:

“These trial results are very impressive and clearly show the huge potential that bowel scope has to both prevent and detect bowel cancer early. 

Whilst we support the Government’s commitment to the test, it must be acknowledged that England does not have the endoscopy capacity to fully deliver bowel scope screening, as well as the introduction of the long-awaited new screening test (faecal immunochemical test, FIT) for all 60-74 year olds, which will substantially increase demand. Without the additional capacity many cancers will continue to be missed by the bowel cancer screening programme. This is clearly unacceptable.

To address this problem the government pledged to recruit 200 non-medical endoscopists but this is insufficient and not enough to cope with the expected increase in the number of referrals for these diagnostic tests. The mounting pressure on endoscopy units is also a result of an increase in the number of people with symptoms of bowel cancer and screening patients due to an ageing population and increased awareness of symptoms.

We have a very clear cost effective opportunity to prevent and to detect more bowel cancers early through effectively implementing bowel scope and FIT, but without the required investment in endoscopy services that opportunity will be lost and people will continue to die needlessly.

This is why we urgently need a national endoscopy strategy to address how we can best meet this increasing demand, as well as a nationwide training programme to ensure we have the workforce in place to deliver these welcome screening initiatives. This must be a priority.”