Page last updated at 03:24 GMT, Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Hopes over DIY bowel cancer tests

Bowel cancer scans
Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death

DIY bowel cancer screening will save more than 2,200 lives in the UK every year by 2025, researchers say.

A study in the Journal of Medical Screening estimates that testing kits posted to people's homes will save between 2,200 and 2,700 lives per year.

The tests - known as faecal occult blood (FOB) tests - are posted every two years to people who are aged between 60 and 74.

The scheme began in England in 2007 and will span Britain by December 2009.

In Scotland, screening is currently offered to everyone aged 50 to 74, while a screening programme is hoped to begin in Wales shortly.

Northern Ireland plans the introduction of a bowel cancer screening programme from December 2009 for people aged 60-69.

Forgetting to do it or feeling too embarrassed could have serious consequences
Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK

Cancer of the bowel is the second most common cause of cancer death.

More than 36,500 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year in the UK and about 16,000 people die from it annually.

The researchers used a computer simulation model to estimate how many lives the screening programme could save, using data on death rates and the numbers of people affected by cancer from between 1975 and 2004.

Dr Max Parkin, a Cancer Research UK epidemiologist at Queen Mary University of London, said: "The results of our study show the large number of lives that could be saved by the national bowel cancer screening programme in the next 20 years.

"Screening every two years for people aged between 60 and 74 years old is absolutely crucial in order to reduce the number of people dying from bowel cancer.

"In this study we're assuming that between 60% and 80% of people will take up the opportunity to be screened."

He added: "The idea is to detect bowel cancer before it causes any symptoms with this screening tests so it can be treated at a very early stage and very successfully."

Simple tests

The test detects tiny amounts of blood in the stools, which can be an early sign of bowel cancer.

People take the test at home and send off their sample to a laboratory, with the results being posted back within two weeks.

Sara Hiom, director of health information at Cancer Research UK, said the screening procedure was "so simple yet could save your life".

She said: "This report highlights how successful screening could be but, worryingly, there are still a large number of people not using the testing kits.

"This type of screening is non-invasive and anonymous - it's just a case of doing the test at home and sending a sample off for analysis.

"Forgetting to do it or feeling too embarrassed could have serious consequences."

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