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One-off test cuts bowel cancer risk for at least 17 years

1 Mar 2017

A one-off bowel screening test reduces the risk of developing bowel cancer by more than one third and could save thousands of lives, according to a study published in The Lancet.

The researchers, funded through the MRC and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation (EME) Programme*, and by Cancer Research UK, found that the test – which examines the lower part of the large bowel – prevented more than half of potential bowel cancers from developing in that area and two thirds of deaths were avoided.

Bowel scope uses a tiny camera attached to a thin flexible tube to examine a specific part of the bowel but was still found to prevent 35 per cent of bowel cancers overall and to prevent 40 per cent of deaths.

The team followed more than 170,000 people for 17 years on average and more than 40,000 had the bowel scope test. It is the longest study ever done on the effectiveness of the test.

Screening using the bowel scope test can stop cancer before it starts by finding small growths, called polyps, on the bowel wall. If left untreated polyps may become cancerous, but those found during bowel scope can usually be removed there and then.

The study follows on from earlier work funded by the MRC and has been brought to this stage courtesy of continued support from the MRC and NIHR partnership EME programme.

Professor Wendy Atkin, Cancer Research UK’s bowel screening expert and lead author based at Imperial College London, said: “We know the bowel scope test has huge benefits for older people. Although no screening test is perfect, this study shows that bowel scope is effective in reducing cancer deaths for at least 17 years.

“Bowel cancer can be prevented. And the bowel scope screening test is a great way to reduce the number of people diagnosed with the disease so it’s vital that no one misses out on the opportunity to get the test.”

The government estimates that the bowel scope test will take at least another three years before it will be offered to everyone eligible across England. The test is offered to people at age 55.

Read the paper in The Lancet.

To read about the grant(s) that funded this research, please see Gateway to Research reference G9615910 and the NIHR project page.

*The EME Programme is managed by the NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre (NETSCC) based at the University of Southampton. It supports later-phase “science-driven” clinical trials and evaluative studies, which seek to determine whether a health intervention (eg a drug, diagnostic technique or device) works and in some cases how or why it works.



  • Categories: Research
  • Health categories: Cancer
  • Locations: London
  • Type: Success story