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Sunday, 2 December, 2001, 01:32 GMT
Falklands benefit from cancer screening
Bowel scan
Bowel cancer rates are high in the Falkland Islands
Screening for bowel cancer could cut the number of deaths from the disease, doctors suggest.

The Institute of Cancer Research in London says results from a screening programme on the Falkland Islands provides evidence to support testing for bowel cancer.

People living in the Falkland Islands share a predisposition to the disease and this has been attributed to the fact that around half of all Islanders can trace their roots back to the original 38 settlers.

But the introduction of a screening programme there in 1994 has seen diagnoses of malignant bowel cancer fall significantly.


The results of this first study of the Falkland Islanders are encouraging

Prof Peter Rigby, Institute of Cancer Research
In the five years before the programme was introduced, nine Islanders were diagnosed with malignant bowel cancer. However, since 1994 just one case has been identified

Professor Anthony Swerdlow, an epidemiologist at the Institute, said while the numbers involved are small the programme has shown positive results.

"It was very encouraging to find evidence that a screening programme in the islands may have been successfully in combating high incidence of bowel cancer.

"This study is of course based on small numbers of cases so we will have to continue monitoring cancer rates in the islands before we can reach definite conclusions."

'Something to learn'

Dr Barry Elsby, a GP on the Islands, who started the study, said there had been a high uptake for screening. Testing was offered to everyone over the age of 55.

"Interestingly, through out study, we found that there had been a very high up-take of screening by the islanders - perhaps due to the atmosphere of mutual support which exists in a small island community.

Falkland Islands map
"There certainly appears to be something to learn from the Falklands experience on how to encourage people to go for bowel screening as a preventative measure - especially since the tests for bowel cancer are perceived as unpleasant."

Prof Swerdlow said the Falkland's experience was important because of its relatively high incidence of the disease.

"The unique circumstances of life in the Falkland Islands may have influenced cancer risks for the islanders.

"Because of the isolated nature of the Falklands, around half of the inhabitants can trace their roots back to the 38 original settlers - which may explain why some of the population share a pre-disposition to bowel cancer.

"In addition, prior to the 1982 conflict, the diet of the islanders had been unusually high in animal fat and low in fresh fruit and vegetables.

"These factors may have affected the risks of certain cancers within the population."

Encouraging results

Professor Peter Rigby, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research, said the results were encouraging.

"Any news of a reduction in the number of people dying from bowel cancer is of course extremely welcome. The results of this first study of the Falkland Islanders are encouraging."

Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer after breast cancer among women in the UK and the third most common in men after lung and prostate cancer.

In 1995, the latest figures available, there were 16,477 new cases of bowel cancer recorded in men, and 15,742 cases in women living in the UK.

Trials and studies of different bowel cancer screening techniques are currently taking place throughout England and Wales in several research sites around the country.

The results of the Falkland Islands programme are published in the latest issue of the British Journal of Cancer.

See also:

28 Aug 01 | Health
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