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Call for colon cancer screening
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Bowel cancer screening could cut deaths from the disease
Deaths from colon cancer could be cut by a fifth if men were offered screening for the disease, says a UK expert.

Professor John Northover, who works at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund Colorectal Cancer Unit at St Mark's Hospital in London said that screening could pick out those affected much earlier - when surgery is more likely to halt the spread of the cancer.

He said: "Almost nowhere has colorectal cancer screening been introduced as national policy, as robust evidence of efficacy has not been available.

"It has taken almost 20 years to conduct and interpret the necessary randomised trial of faecal blood occult blood testing."

Data from three such trials now shows that death rates could be cut by up to 20% by organised national screening programmes.

Camera probe

Faecal occult testing involves analysing a stool sample for the presence of blood, which is telltale sign of a cancerous lesion somewhere in the bowel.

Those who test positive can undergo a second check with a tiny camera mounted on a flexible probe which can be passed up into the colon - if there is a cancer, hopefully this will spot its exact location.


We cannot yet calculate how many people will need to suffer from unnecessary screening

Professor Goran Ekelund, University Hospital of Malmo
The UK government is currently evaluating faecal occult blood testing at pilot centres covering two million people. This is due to be completed in 2003.

However, there are those who feel that it is premature for any government to introduce a screening programme.

Professor Goran Ekelund, from the University Hospital of Malmo in Sweden, said that the studies carried out so far might be flawed.

He said: "Before any decision is taken, we should have that information which is not yet available.

"We cannot yet calculate how many people will need to suffer from unnecessary screening."

He asked if the costs of screening would be diverted from other - possibly more deserving - healthcare resources."

The European Cancer Conference - full coverage

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12 Feb 01 | Health
02 Mar 01 | Health
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