“Screening reduces the risk of dying from bowel cancer by about 15%,” says Dr Richard Stevens, Chair of the Primary Care Society for Gastroenterology. “Over nine in ten people diagnosed at its earliest stage survive for five years or more, but less than one in ten survive when diagnosed at the latest stage.”

 

More screening saves more lives

 

Test kits to detect blood in three samples of poo (potentially an early symptom) are posted to everyone between 60 and 74 every two years.

However, says Stevens, “Many people find it distasteful, which is one of the reasons that take-up is just under 60%. Higher-risk groups are among the lowest uptakers.” A new home screening test, coming in 2018, requires only one sample. Trials show it increased uptake by 7%.

A new test, called bowel scope, will be offered to everyone aged 55 in England. It involves a single out-patient hospital visit to find and remove any bowel polyps that can develop into cancer.

“Bowel scope can reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer by a third, and the risk of dying from it by over 40%,” says Stevens.

 

Getting the message across

 

Increasing uptake means getting the message across frequently in different ways and languages, says Stevens.

“Advertisements about screening, using acceptable words like 'poo', help normalise discussion about bowel symptoms, and we are encouraging primary care staff to become bowel screening champions.

“Screening may mean embarrassment and discomfort today but it reduces the chance of cancer in the future.”