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Over-60s urged to perform bowel cancer test as scientists reveal they DO boost chances of survival
23:00 GMT, 14 June 2012
People aged over 60 have been urged to have regular bowel cancer screenings after scientists found those who did had a better chance of survival.
Experts said those who performed the test at home and went to subsequent appointments were more likely to be diagnosed at an earlier stage than those diagnosed from their symptoms.
Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women, with around 40,000 people diagnosed with the disease each year.
If a home testing kit measures positive for blood a patient will have a colonoscopy. This will find any pre-cancerous polyps, which are then removed
Researchers looked at people aged 60 to 69 who were diagnosed with the disease in the West Midlands between January 2006 and September 2011.
They compared the stage at diagnosis in patients picked up at screening compared to those diagnosed from symptoms.
They found that 18.5 per cent of bowel cancers detected through screening were at the earliest stages compared with 9.4 per cent of cancers diagnosed through symptomatic routes.
Sam Johnson, lead researcher based at the West Midlands Cancer Intelligence Unit, said: 'When bowel cancer is diagnosed at an earlier stage, it's easier to treat, has a lower chance of coming back and better survival rates.
'Our research shows that screening can play an important role in improving bowel cancer survival by picking up cancers at an earlier stage.'
The findings were presented at the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) conference in Birmingham.
NCIN head Chris Carrigan said: 'When bowel cancer is found at the earliest stage, there is an excellent chance of survival, with more than 90 per cent of people surviving the disease at least five years.
'This study highlights the potential improvements we can make through encouraging more people to take up their screening invitation so the disease is diagnosed earlier.'
The home testing kit allows over-60s to be screened in the comfort of their own homes
Cancer Research UK head of health information and evidence Hazel Nunn added: 'Bowel screening uptake is worryingly low, particularly amongst men.
'And this is a useful reminder for older people to complete their bowel screening kit when it arrives in the post.'
The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme offers screening every two years to all men and women aged 60 to 69.
People in this age group are sent an invitation followed by a screening kit, so they can do the test at home. It involves wiping small stool samples onto the testing card, which is then sealed and sent in the post to a lab for testing.
The test detects tiny amounts of blood, which you cannot normally see, as polyps and bowel cancers sometimes bleed. So the test does not diagnose the disease but will tell you if you need a further examination by a doctor.
Around 98 per cent of samples are judged as 'normal' although this does not guarantee that a person does not have bowel cancer.