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Bowel cancer screening trial finds 300 have early-stage disease

Originally published 7 July 2003


Researchers at the University of Warwick have been evaluating a scheme that detects the early onset of bowel cancer. The two-year pilot scheme, initiated by the government’s National Screening Committee, identified more than 300 people at an early stage of the disease. The scheme may be rolled out across the United Kingdom in moves to reduce the number of deaths from the disease, which sees 34,000 new cases each year in the United Kingdom.

Dr Gill Grimshaw, from the Business School at the University of Warwick, has been responsible for analysing the strategy to successfully introduce the screening service and the potential barriers to the advancement of a national service.

The study tested for blood in faecal samples, an early sign of the disease, amongst participants from the West Midlands and Tayside in Scotland. The aim of the pilot was to see if faecal occult blood testing (FOBt) was a possible screening test for the UK population. Those with positive results were offered further tests and treatment.

Dr Gill Grimshaw said: “The results showed that detection rates are lower in the West Midlands than in Scotland. The pilot revealed that there is a need to target specific groups. Uptake in ethnic groups is influenced by their GP’s religion and language, and faecal blood testing is less acceptable to the relatively younger men between the ages of 50-54 years, so these groups would need particular attention as the screening goes national.”

“We are recommending to the Department of Health that blood testing screening, if introduced, should be part of a package of new national strategies targeting colorectal cancer.”

Although 60 per cent of all those asked to do so took part in this project, there was a lower uptake amongst men, younger people, those from deprived areas and individuals of ethnic origin. The study found that those who turned down the chance to take part in the screening programme showed a range of lifestyle factors that could increase their risk of colorectal cancer and other diseases. However, taking part in the scheme seemed to raise awareness of the disease and those who responded indicated that they were more likely to take preventive measures in the future. Uptake rates for colonoscopy, which is the usual investigation for those with positive screening tests was also influenced by deprivation and ethnicity.

Professor David Weller, from the University of Edinburgh’s Department of Community Health Sciences, said: “We found that FOBt screening is feasible in the UK population. This means that mortality reductions demonstrated in earlier randomised studies would likely be achieved in the population if a national programme is established. The pilot project had a modest impact on the workload in General Practices, but did generate additional workload for hospitals.”

The evaluation of the screening trial was funded by the Department of Health.

For further information contact:
Jenny Murray, Communications office, University of Warwick, Tel: 02476 574 255 Mobile: 07876 217740
Linda Menzies, Communications and Public Affairs, University of Edinburgh, Tel: 0131 650 6382