Shyness hinders cancer testing

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The Independent Online
EMBARRASSMENT COULD cause a new cancer screening service to fail before it has started, medical experts warned yesterday.

People's distaste for discussing their intimate bodily functions is the biggest barrier to the success of Europe's first bowel screening programme, according to the director- general of the Cancer Research Campaign, Professor Gordon McVie.

The screening programme, which was announced by the Health minister Tessa Jowell yesterday, is the first to target men and women and will be piloted in Coventry and Warwickshire in England and in Tayside, Grampian and Fife in Scotland. Home testing kits will be sent to all residents in the pilot areas aged between 50 and 69 in the pounds 5m study.

They will be asked to send faecal samples for laboratory testing for the presence of "occult" (hidden) blood.

Those who test positively will be invited for further investigation, such as a colonoscopy - internal examination of the colon.

The aim of the tests is the early detection of colorectal (bowel) cancer, of which there are some 30,000 cases a year.

Mrs Jowell said: "About 20,000 people per year die from colorectal cancer and many of them could have been saved if their cancer had been found earlier.

"Many people suffer in silence, too embarrassed to tell their partners or even their doctors. But, if it is caught early, this is one of the most curable of all cancers."

Professor McVie said: "We welcome this pioneering initiative ... but we worry that it could fail if the people who are invited to participate are too embarrassed to send in their samples. For too long the British public has been quite literally dying of embarrassment. We urge to back the screening project and help put an end to this needless waste of life."

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