Page last updated at 00:51 GMT, Tuesday, 24 July 2007 01:51 UK

Cancer test 'may save many lives'

David Phillips
David Phillips used the kit to diagnose his cancer

Widespread use of a simple DIY test kit for bowel cancer could save thousands of lives a year, experts have said.

The kit is being sent to men and women in their 60s throughout the UK as part of a national screening programme.

Cancer Research UK has calculated there would be up to 20,000 fewer deaths over the next 20 years if 60% of those who receive the test make use of it.

If 80% used it, another 5,000 lives could be saved over 20 years, figures from a pilot scheme suggest.

I was very lucky that the screening test picked up on something that could have developed into a much worse situation
David Phillips

Professor Max Parkin, an epidemiologist at the Wolfson Institute in London, said: "Our research looked at a realistic scenario where uptake is about 60% and compared those results with an optimistic scenario where uptake could rise to 80%.

Common condition

"In both cases thousands of deaths could be prevented."

There are about 35,000 cases of bowel cancer diagnosed each year in the UK, and more than 16,000 people die from the disease.

Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK.

The testing kit - the Faecal Occult Blood Test - is designed to allow people to take faecal samples in the privacy of their own home and send them for testing.

If any blood is found they are then invited for a colonoscopy.

In many cases small pre-cancerous growths, detected by colonoscopy, can be removed and bowel cancer is prevented from developing.

The test, which should be repeated every two years, is expected to pick up about half of any cancers - but the researchers used a conservative estimate of about four in 10 for their calculations.


David Phillips, 67, a retired swimming coach from Coventry, was part of the pilot bowel screening programme and was sent a test kit in 2001.

Initially reluctant, his wife persuaded him to do the test and the result showed blood in the sample.

The test was repeated and Mr Phillips was asked to have a colonoscopy.

Bowel cancer was diagnosed and he had surgery two weeks later. He is now fully recovered and has six-monthly check-ups.

He said: "I think I was very lucky that the screening test picked up on something that could have developed into a much worse situation.

"Early diagnosis was the reason I have made such a good recovery.

"Without screening I probably would not have known that I had cancer, but thanks to screening I am here to tell the story."

The Department of Health has already issued more than 300,000 testing kits in England.

Of these, 2,500 positive results have been returned and those patients are now receiving treatment.

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