Fewer than 40% of eligible people have availed of the State’s free bowel screening service, it has emerged.
BowelScreen clinical director, Prof Diarmuid O’Donoghue, said it is crucial that the uptake of the National Bowel Screening Programme’s free home test is increased.
“BowelScreen’s latest figures show how the programme is saving lives. To date, it has detected 718 cancers and removed almost 19,000 pre-cancerous growths,” he said.
“However, fewer than 40% of eligible people have availed of BowelScreen in the most recent screening round. It is really important that we increase this.”
Bowel cancer is a big killer in Ireland. More than 2,500 people are diagnosed with the disease each year and over 1,000 lives are lost.
“But the good news is that bowel cancer is also one of the most preventable and treatable types of cancer, thanks to screening,” said Prof O’Donoghue.
A simple home test can detect abnormal changes in the bowel that often have no signs or symptoms. These changes can develop into cancer over time.
BowelScreen provides free home testing to men and women aged 60 to 69. Most will have a normal result and be invited to be tested again in two years.
However, for a small number of people a further examination, such as a colonoscopy, will be required.
About half of the colonoscopies will detect and remove pre-cancerous growths, preventing bowel cancer from developing at a later stage.
This month, Bowel Screening Awareness Month, Bowelscreen is urging everyone aged 60 to 69 to check if they are on the BowelScreen register to receive their home test.
“The BowelScreen home test is free and only takes a few minutes but it could save your life,” Prof O’Donoghue said.
People can check to see if they are on the register by calling Freephone 1800 45 45 55 or by visiting bowelscreen.ie.
The Irish Cancer Society is also concerned about the low uptake of the test and that many people may be avoiding it out of fear.
“Worryingly, 60% of bowel cancer cases occur in men but only 35% of eligible males have availed of the State’s free screening programme — BowelScreen, compared to 45% of women,” it said.
“It is vital that people avail of the free service as screening plays an important role in diagnosing cancers.
“A healthy lifestyle and a diet high in fibre can also help to reduce your risk of developing cancer.”
The Irish Cancer Society is also encouraging people to take their online Bowel Health Checker at cancer.ie/bowel health.
Keith had no symptoms before test
Keith Cairns from Terenure in Dublin had no symptoms before doing the home test.
Therefore he was surprised to find that the results of his test were not normal. Soon after, he was contacted by BowelScreen to discuss a colonoscopy for further testing.
“A couple of weeks went by and I got a call from a nurse in BowelScreen,” he said.
“She talked me through the entire procedure and was very reassuring.”
He was then sent for a colonoscopy. “A nurse then showed me my scan and gave me the great news that all was OK — a couple of polyps which had been removed but otherwise all OK,” he said.
This was the second time Mr Cairns did the home test. He wants to highlight his message to others:
“With BowelScreen, the State is offering a free service to help people live longer. Even if something is found, the chances of recovery are good. This is fantastic. If I can do it, anyone can.”
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