Thousands of bowel cancer deaths could be avoided if NHS made simple change

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THOUSANDS of lives could be saved from cancer with yearly gut checks, says Cancer Research UK.

Posting bowel cancer screening kits to NHS patients every year instead of every two years could boost early diagnosis.

The charity is urging people to get checked after Sun writer Dame Deborah James pleaded with Brits to “check your poo” before she died of the disease last week.

A study by the University of Sheffield suggested 13.6 per cent more people would send samples if kits were sent every year.

This could save the lives of at least 11,000 people already over 50 who are expected to die of the disease, it found.

Michelle Mitchell, CEO of Cancer Research UK, said: “Screening is an effective way of catching cancer early and saving lives but not everyone engages. 

“This study shows that sending yearly test kits to those who don’t complete them could help save lives.”

Bowel cancer is one of the UK’s most common cancers, with 43,000 cases and 17,000 deaths every year. Up to half of people do not take the screening tests, with return rates worse in poorer areas. The individual likelihood of survival depends on how advanced the cancer is, whether or not all the cancer can be removed with surgery and the person’s overall health. Globally, colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer, making up about 10% of all cases. In 2018, there were 1.09 million new cases and 551,000 deaths from the disease. The signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer depend on the location of the tumor in the bowel, and whether it has spread elsewhere in the body.

The NHS sends stool sample collection kits to over-50s in England so labs can check people’s poo for signs of blood – a possible sign of a tumour.

Other symptoms include needing to go to the toilet more often and gut pain.

But up to half of people do not take the screening tests, with return rates worse in poorer areas.

The study, published in the journal Preventative Medicine, found sending a kit every year until the patient completes it could boost uptake.

Screening would also spot more cancers if patients were nudged with text messages, phone calls and advertising.

Lead author Dr Chloe Thomas said: “It’s vital the programme works for everyone.  

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

Genevieve Edwards, chief of Bowel Cancer UK, says: “This has huge potential to increase screening uptake and help diagnose bowel cancers earlier when they’re more easily treated. 

“In particular, making this simple, affordable change to the bowel screening programme appears to increase uptake among people from the most deprived communities.

“It will also be vital to increase investment in staff and equipment to match an increase in demand for follow-up tests.”

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