Cancer test kit 'could lead to 20,000 fewer deaths'

Deaths from bowel cancer could be dramatically reduced if people use a self-testing kit being sent to people in their sixties throughout the country, a cancer charity has predicted.

Cancer Research UK said that there would be up to 20,000 fewer deaths from the disease in the next 20 years if just 60% of those eligible for bowel screening used the Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT). The figure rose to 25,000 if 80% of people used the test.

The bowel screening programme's self test kit, which is part of Cancer Research UK's Screening Matters campaign, is designed to allow people to take faecal samples in the privacy of their own home and send them for testing.

If blood is found during the test, the person would then be invited for a colonoscopy. The test should be repeated every two years.

David Phillips, 67, a retired swimming coach from Coventry, was part of the pilot bowel screening programme and was sent a test kit in 2001. His wife persuaded him to do the test and the result showed blood in the sample. The test was repeated and Mr Phillips was asked to have a colonoscopy. Bowel cancer was diagnosed and he had surgery two weeks later. He is now fully recovered and has six-monthly check-ups.

Mr Phillips said: "I think I was very lucky that the screening test picked up on something that could have developed into a much worse situation. Early diagnosis was the reason I made such a good recovery.

"The bowel screening programme is certainly the way forward as it could help so many people as it helped me. Without screening I probably would not have known that I had cancer, but thanks to screening I am here to tell the story."

Maxine Taylor, Cancer Research UK's executive director of policy and communications, said: "These new predictions indicate how valuable the NHS bowel screening programme will be in cutting the rising toll of bowel cancer deaths. It is important that the programme is rolled out as efficiently and quickly as possible so that the maximum number of eligible men and women can benefit."

Cancer Research UK has also called on the government to screen at least three million more people over the next five years; reduce the variation in screening across the UK; reach out to people eligible for screening who aren't taking part; provide the best possible screening programmes through funding, staffing and measuring success.

The campaign will also ask supporters to sign a pledge card, available from Cancer Research UK shops, showing their support for the political aims and to make a personal pledge that they will attend screening when invited.

There are around 35,000 cases of bowel cancer diagnosed each year in the UK, with more than 16,000 people dying from the disease. Bowel cancer is also the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK.


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