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Thursday, September 10, 1998 Published at 07:25 GMT 08:25 UK


Drive to combat killer cancer

Bobby Moore: a high profile bowel cancer sufferer

The BBC's Richard Hannaford on bowel cancer
The government is to spend £2.5m on pilot screening programmes for bowel cancer, a deadly, but easily treatable form of cancer.

Bowel cancer kills nearly 20,000 people a year in the UK even though it can be treated effectively if caught early.

The government move on bowel cancer follows a pledge to spend £10m to improve treatment of the disease.

The screening programme was announced on Thursday by health minister Tessa Jowell at the launch of a new guide on the disease by the charity The Crocus (Colo-Rectal Cancer Understanding & Screening) Trust.

Ms Jowell said two pilot sites, one in England and one in Scotland, would help the government assess how effective a national screening programme would be.

She said: "It is time to break the taboo of bowel cancer. Tens of thousands of people are suffering in silence, too embarrassed to tell their husbands, wives and doctors.

"But when it is caught early, bowel cancer is one of the most curable of all cancers. When these pilots are up and running, I would urge people to take part in them. They could make a huge difference in how we tackle the toll from this disease."

Major step forward

[ image: Tessa Jowell: Announced the screening campaign]
Tessa Jowell: Announced the screening campaign
The government's chief medical officer Sir Kenneth Calman said: "The establishment of pilot study sites for bowel cancer screening is a major step forward.

"Research has shown that screening for colorectal cancer has a significant impact on mortality of this disease."

The pilots will run for 2-3 years and cover a population of about one million each.

Screening will be offered every two years to all members of the population aged between 50-69.

A letter, an explanatory leaflet and a blood test kit will be sent directly to the home, and samples would then be sent to test laboratories.

In the event of a positive test, the patient would be invited for follow-up hospital investigations and given more detailed literature.

Still alive

The Crocus Trust guide, "Don't Sit On Your Symptoms - Find Out About Bowel Cancer" was written by Lynn Faulds Wood, former presenter of BBC Television's Watchdog programme, and a bowel cancer sufferer.

She said: "I was told that there was nothing wrong with me yet I had the second commonest symptom. It was advanced bowel cancer and it is lucky that I am still alive today."

Stephanie Moore, widow of Bobby Moore, who died of bowel cancer, said he would not have benefitted from the screening programme because he was too young.

But she said the leaflet could have saved his life.

"Had it been available when Bobby and I first started seeing different doctors, I am sure he would have been alive today," she told BBC Radio 5Live.

The guide was written with the help of the Royal College of GPs and Association of Bowel Specialists.

Bowel cancer expert Chris Marks said "It is very exciting, an excellent, clear leaflet.

"The carefully targeted advice on symptoms will be a great help in speeding up the referral of patients who may have cancer and save many people undergoing unnecessary investigation."

Difficult to diagnose

Doctors find it difficult to distinguish between bowel cancer and everyday conditions like piles and irritable bowel syndrome.

The guide is designed to help patients and doctors distinguish more easily between high and low risk symptoms.

The symptoms guide has been developed following a pilot study in the Portsmouth area.

Using the advice in the guide, doctors were able to correctly diagnose twice as many cases of bowel cancer than usual.

High risk symptoms for bowel cancer include:

  • A persistent change of bowel habit.

  • Rectal bleeding unaccompanied by lumps, itching or soreness which indicate piles.

  • Anaemia and colicky severe abdominal pain in older patients.

Approximately 1.3m leaflets will be sent to GP surgeries across the country.

The £10m made available by ministers is intended to speed up access to specialist services for patients, to reduce the time they have to wait for treatment and to improve the quality of care they then receive.

Health authorities and hospitals have been invited to bid for funding to make improvements such as the introduction of more radiotherapy and oncology sessions and more trained staff.

Free copies of the "Don't Sit On Your Symptoms" leaflet can be obtained from the Department of Health on Freephone 0800 555777.

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