Health

More than 11,000 bowel cancer deaths could be prevented by simply reinviting people

More than 11,000 lives could be saved by simply reinviting people who miss key bowel cancer test, research suggests.

A yearly reminder would boost uptake by nearly 14 per cent and catch thousands more cases of the disease, the Cancer Research UK study found.

Everyone aged 60 to 74 who is registered with a GP in England is automatically sent an at-home stool test every two years.

It looks for traces of blood, which can be a sign of bowel cancer or polyps – small growths in the bowel that may turn into cancer over time.

But people from deprived communities are significantly less likely to complete the test and therefore benefit from an early diagnosis.

Mortality rates for bowel cancer in England are 30 per cent higher for men living in the most deprived areas compared with the least, and 15 per cent higher for females.

Late presenter Dame Deborah James – known as ‘bowel babe’ – shone a light on the killer disease and raised millions for charity in her final days battling the cancer.

The host of the BBC’s You, Me and the Big C podcast constantly urged people to ‘check your poo’. She was given a damehood in May to recognise her fundraising and passed away last week.

More than 11,000 lives could be saved by simply reinviting people who miss key bowel cancer test, research suggests. Dame Deborah James – dubbed ‘bowel babe’ – shone a light on the killer disease and raised millions for charity in her final days battling cancer

The new study, based on modelling, found that yearly reinvites for people who failed to return a stool sample would lead to a 13.6 per cent rise in uptake in the first year.

Advertising campaigns, text message reminders and pre-invite phone calls could boost participation further, researchers from the University of Sheffield said.

WHAT IS BOWEL CANCER?

Bowel, or colorectal, cancer affects the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and rectum.

Such tumours usually develop from pre-cancerous growths, called polyps.

Symptoms include:

  • Bleeding from the bottom
  • Blood in stools
  • A change in bowel habits lasting at least three weeks
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme, unexplained tiredness
  • Abdominal pain

Most cases have no clear cause, however, people are more at risk if they: 

  • Are over 50
  • Have a family history of the condition
  • Have a personal history of polyps in their bowel
  • Suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease
  • Lead an unhealthy lifestyle  

Treatment usually involves surgery, and chemo- and radiotherapy.

More than nine out of 10 people with stage one bowel cancer survive five years or more after their diagnosis.

This drops significantly if it is diagnosed in later stages. 

According to Bowel Cancer UK figures, more than 41,200 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK – and 17,000 die.

It affects around 40 per 100,000 adults per year in the US, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK, after lung cancer, killing around 17,000 Britons each year.

There is a huge disparity in uptake between poor and rich communities – 54.3 per cent in the most deprived group compared to 73.5 per cent in the least.

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: ‘Screening is an effective way of catching cancer early and saving lives, but not everyone engages equally, and this contributes to health inequalities across the UK. 

‘This study shows that sending yearly test kits to those who don’t complete them could help close this gap and save lives.

‘Addressing health disparities is critical to achieving the Government’s early diagnosis targets and saving lives. 

‘We urge Government to implement a re-invitation pilot as part of its upcoming 10-Year Cancer Plan.

‘We need a cancer plan for all – and bold action, such as this, will benefit generations to come.’

The national bowel cancer screening programme will gradually expand to include everyone aged 50 to 59 over the next four years.

It has already started, with 58 and 59-year-olds invited this year.

Lead researcher from Leeds University Chloe Thomas said: ‘There are many factors that lead to inequalities in bowel cancer mortality, including differences in underlying health conditions and access to treatment. 

‘Although screening is just a small part of the picture, it’s vital the programme works for everyone.

‘We believe we’ve identified a cost-effective way to increase screening participation and reduce mortality across all groups, while also reducing inequalities. 

‘But this was based on modelling and real-world data is needed to confirm our conclusions. 

‘The next step would be to analyse data from a pilot to improve our predictions of long-term mortality benefits.’

Dame Deborah James tirelessly campaigned to raise awareness about bowel cancer after her diagnosis in 2016.

The mother of two was praised for her candid approach to talking about cancer, sharing her brutally honest experiences of treatment and daily life with the disease.

She revealed in early May that she had stopped active treatment and was receiving end-of-life care at her parents’ home in Woking, with her husband Sebastien and their two children by her side. She passed away on June 28. 

In her final weeks, the presenter raised millions of pounds for research and was made a dame for her ‘tireless’ work improving awareness of the disease.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson led the thousands of tributes paid to the dedicated campaigner, hailing her as an ‘inspiration’ and said that because of her campaigning work ‘many, many lives will be saved’. 

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