Screening for bowel cancer could save thousands of lives - but at a cost, a report says today.
Bowel cancer is second only to lung cancer as a fatal cancer in Britain, with 30,000 new cases a year. Almost half of these survive less than five years from diagnosis because their cancer is advanced by the time they develop symptoms.
In a joint statement published in the journal Gut, the British Society of Gastroenterology, the Royal College of Physicians and the Association of Coloproctology say there is good evidence that some form of screening could substantially reduce deaths. However, present levels of staff and resources would be unable to cope. The authors predict that screening will become widespread within 10 years but warn that more money will need to be found.
Embarrassment deters people from going to see their doctor with bowel problems making early diagnosis difficult. Nine out of ten cases of bowel cancer are not detected until the cancer has spread through the bowel wall or to other parts of the body. Up to 90 per cent of cases develop from pre-cancerous polyps (growths) in the bowel wall. By removing these early the risk of cancer can be substantially reduced.
Trials are being run to find the best method of screening. One involves a test to detect blood in the stools and the other uses a flexible probe with a camera on the end. However, high-risk individuals with a family history should already have screening, it says.
Professor Jonathan Rhodes, professor of medicine at the University of Liverpool and chairman of the group that produced the statement, said: "Screening offers the best chance of reducing bowel cancer mortality in the short term but the screening procedures are relatively unpleasant and there is probably quite a fine balance between benefit and risk for the average person.Screening is already considered standard in the US, however, and seems likely to follow here."
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