Study: Early bowel cancer screening test could halve deaths

The number of people dying from one of Ireland’s most common cancers could be cut in half as a direct result of a groundbreaking early screening test.

Experts at St Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin made the claim after revealing the preliminary findings from a new national bowel cancer project.

Under an initiative called BowelScreen, doctors at the facility asked 200 potentially at-risk patients aged 60 to 65 to follow a take-home test to check for microscopic traces of blood in their stools.

The results of the easy-to-use procedure — called the faecal immunochemical test — were then sent to specialists for analysis.

As a result of these checks, 10% of study participants were found to already be suffering from asymptomatic bowel cancer which would otherwise have continued to develop unchecked.

A further two thirds of the remaining 180 patients involved in the study were found to have a polyp, a form of pre-cancerous growth.

Those found to be affected subsequently underwent straightforward surgeries to remove the growths before they developed further.

Dr Glen Doherty, consultant gastroenterologist at St Vincent’s and a key expert behind the test, said the test could help cut bowel cancer death rates by as much as 50%.

“What we can see from these results is that, while about 10% of patients already had cancer, two thirds of the remainder had pre-cancerous growths. If these had not been identified and removed, these patients would have gone on to develop cancer in five or 10 years time,” he said.

According to the Irish Cancer Society, bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in Ireland, with 2,200 deaths every year.

Among the most common symptoms for the condition are changes in normal bowel motions; feeling you have not emptied your bowel fully; a pain in your stomach; unexpected weight loss; rectal bleeding and unexplained tiredness due to anaemia caused by blood loss.

* Further information is available from the National Cancer Screening Service, freephone 1800 454555; www.bowelscreen.ie; or the Irish Cancer Society freephone 1800 200700.


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