Help us to stop bowel cancer

Take the test. July marks 10 year anniversary of bowel cancer screening in England

As the month of July marks the 10 year anniversary of the introduction of bowel cancer screening in England,[1] Bowel Cancer UK is joining Public Health England, urging people to spread the word among their family, friends and colleagues to take part in screening.

Bowel cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer yet it’s a disease which is often overlooked and diagnosed too late.   Every year in the UK over 41,000 people (one every 15 minutes) are diagnosed with bowel cancer and 16,200 people die of the disease.

Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK, said, “Since bowel cancer screening was first introduced to the UK 10 years ago, it has had a huge impact on the outcome for patients as it is both preventing cancer from developing and detecting it earlier when easier to treat.  I am regularly told by patients detected through screening how grateful they are that they took the test because, in their view, it has saved their life.”

Screening can have a huge impact on the outcome for patients, as it can detect bowel cancer at an early stage in people with no symptoms, when it is easier to treat. In fact, taking part in bowel cancer screening is the best way to get diagnosed early.  Sometimes it can prevent bowel cancer from developing in the first place by picking up non-cancerous growths (polyps) which could become cancerous in the future.  Through screening, over 25,000 cases of bowel cancer have been detected in England alone since 2006 and over 81,000 advanced adenomas, which potentially could have become cancerous.

Whilst bowel cancer screening does save lives, unfortunately in many areas of England the uptake falls well short of the 58 per cent average, in some cases it is as low as 33 per cent. By not taking part in screening, thousands of people are missing out on the chance to detect bowel cancer early when it is easier to treat.

Deborah Alsina continued, “It’s fantastic that the Government has announced the introduction of the simpler and more accurate, Faecal Immunochemical test (FIT) in England as this has been shown to improve uptake by up to 10 per cent and even double uptake in some groups of previous non-responders.  This provides us with a very real opportunity to save more lives in the future and so we look forward to continuing working with the Government, Public Heath England and NHS England on its introduction.”

Until FIT is introduced into England in 2018, Bowel Cancer UK would urge everyone to complete the existing test if received through the post, to help save lives.

Dr Anne Mackie, Director of Screening, Public Health England, said, “It’s great that the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme in England has reached this significant milestone. It’s also timely, as it coincides with the recent announcement that the new home test kit, FIT, will be rolled out into the NHS Bowel Screening Programme. This new test will make it easier for people to get checked for risk of bowel cancer – as early diagnosis and treatment can save lives.”

A number of celebrities have also been supporting Bowel Cancer UK’s call for people to take part in screening.  They include Audrey Hepburn’s son, Luca Dotti, the Chairman of the Audrey Hepburn Children Fund, who is encouraging more people to participate in screening after his mother died of bowel cancer in 1993 at the age of 63, he said:

"Her life has often been described as a fairy tale, yet what my mother really longed for was a home filled with the din of kids and dogs. If screening for bowel cancer was available in the 90's as it is today she may have not missed the opportunity at her greatest role, as the grandmother of six.  My mother, Audrey Hepburn, was 63 when she passed away, her first grandchildren just a year beyond."

 Click here for more information on screening.


[1] The NHS Bowel Screening Programme began in England in 2006, Scotland in 2007, Wales in 2008 and in Northern Ireland in 2010, Cancer Research UK