Together we will beat cancer

A patient at a hospital reception

Bowel screening will save lives

We don’t often talk about ‘breakthroughs’ at Cancer Research UK – science can be a slow moving and painstaking process. But every now and again researchers make a discovery that has the potential to immediately start saving lives.

In April this year, the results of a trial were published in the Lancet which universally excited the cancer research community. The trial, which had taken 16 years to carry out, and which we’d helped to support, showed that a new bowel screening technique – known as Flexi-Scope – could both reduce the risk of dying from bowel cancer and prevent the disease from developing in the first place.

We covered the trial on this blog, and many of you left comments sharing your excitement and optimism about the discovery.

Today, David Cameron announced on the Andrew Marr show that Flexi-Scope is to be included in the NHS Bowel Screening Programme. This is fantastic news. We believe that the technique has the potential to cut the number of cases of bowel cancer by a third, and cut deaths from the disease by almost half (43 per cent) among those attending screening.

This could save thousands of lives every year, and push bowel cancer down the league table of cancer cases in the UK.

But the work’s not over – we now need the Government to commit to rolling the programme out across the NHS as quickly as possible, and to ensuring proper training and resources.

Any unnecessary delay will cost lives.



Benard O Connor December 14, 2010

This is great a national screening program should see a massive reduduction in the incidence of bowel cancer. i think the free tests are only available if you are over a certain age? If you are younger (but over 40) you should test yourself you can get kits at Boots? or online is one I tried. They aren’t expensive and OK its a bit disgusting gtesting your poo but sometime you just have to take a mature approach things.

martha October 24, 2010

My dad and his brother were both diagnosed with bowel cancer when they were about dad died a few years later with secondary liver uncle is still sister and i both go every 3 years to be checked for bowel is a bit evasive but so worth sister is 41 and i am 47..we have both been getting checked for the last 10yrs..we went to the doctor with our concerns as we heard it was hereditory in our family..PLEASE ANYONE IF YOU GET THE OPTION TO BE CHECKED PLEASE GO..

sharon October 22, 2010

My dad was diagnosed with grade C bowel cancer in Jan after doing the home test kit. He had no symptoms so we would almost certainly have lost him if he had not did the test, he is 68. He has had surgery and is almost finished 6 mths of chemo. We have to remain positive that he will get the all clear at some point. I was told that bowel cancer is not classified as hereditory in my dad’s case due to his age. This is still a big worry for myself and sister (40 & 42) and would like to be tested sooner than 50.

paulette October 10, 2010

I was diagnosed with bowel cancer when I was 52 after having a colonoscopy. I strongly feel that screening should start at age 50 as many of those who are diagnosed at 60+ will have had the disease during their 50s as it takes many years to grow.

wendy October 9, 2010

Fantastic news
But we need the support of everybody.

Lives need to be saved and with an early detection programme, this can be achieved.

lynn October 8, 2010

Hi its great news My friend has just been given the all clear after finding out last year that she had bowl cancer. She only found out because the test kit came through and she did it. It should be avalible to anyone and not only bowl cancer

josie71 October 7, 2010

Henry, in regards to your comment “Whilst this means it (Flex Sig) cannot detect some bowel cancers, it also means it is much safer – hence why it is suitable for use in a screening programme.”

A Flex Sig may carry fewer procedural risks but there is also the risk that it will not detect a colon tumour. In my view, that does not make FlexSig a “safer” option for all patients.

Individuals with a strong family history should be offered colonoscopies, not settling for a Flex Sig. Since my diagnosis, my sisters have had colonoscopies 3-yearly.

The reason why this procedure is not offered widely is the risks but also because it is costlier for the NHS.

Henry Scowcroft October 7, 2010

Thanks for all your comments. There are several recurring questions that we’d like to answer.

Firstly, regarding screening age – we don’t yet know the age at which the Government plans to screen people with Flexi-Scope, nor how this will fit in with the current bowel screening programme (which uses a method called the ‘faecal occult blood test’, or FoBT). It’s likely that information will appear in due course on the NHS Bowel Screening website, or on NHS Choices.

As soon as we hear anything we will, of course, update our websites too.

Secondly, Flexi-Scope, or flexible sigmoidoscopy, is different from a colonoscopy. As Josie71 correctly says, Flexi-Scope does not look as far into the bowel as a colonoscopy. Whilst this means it cannot detect some bowel cancers, it also means it is much safer – hence why it is suitable for use in a screening programme.

There’s more information on different methods of bowel examination on our CancerHelp UK website.

To answer those who asked ‘how to get a test’, Flexi-Scope will be part of the national bowel screening programme, so it will ultimately be something you are invited to have, rather than something you can request. However, if you have a strong history of cancer on one side of your family, it’s definitely worth speaking to your GP to find out if you are eligible for earlier screening.

There’s more information about who is eligible for bowel cancer screening on CancerHelp UK

Finally, if you’re worried about bowel cancer, there’s information on possible signs and symptoms to look out for on our website, including this video. If you notice anything unusual, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. These symptoms usually have causes other than bowel cancer, but it’s always best to get them checked out.


Elizabeth Brown October 6, 2010

In Scotland, home testing kits for bowel cancer are sent out from the age of 50 yrs. I am 57 and have had two already, both thankfully negative. A friend, however, had no symptoms but hers was positive and is now having annual examinations to remove recurrent, pre cancerous polyps. She is 54 yrs old. The sooner this test is available in England the better! Also, when will regular PSA (prostate) testing start for men? We ladies are fortunate to have regular cervical smears and mammograms, so men should be given routine screening for their potential health problems too.

Richard Amos October 6, 2010

I was diagnosed early with bowel cancer 5 years ago with the colonoscopy, which obviously saved my life. I’m now checked regularly as a precaution to make sure that all is ok. Without that initial colonoscopy check, I may not have been writing this blog, so I’m living proof that early detection with these proposed checks, even if it is only the flexi scope, will undoubtably save presious lives.

Josie71 October 6, 2010

I am a bowel cancer patient whose tumour was missed during a Flexible Sigmoidoscopy test. My tumour
was higher up in the colon and was detected, much later, by colonoscopy. While the government investment is to be applauded, I feel that it is irresponsible for Cancer Reaserch not to highlight the limitations of Flexible Sigmoidoscopy, which is proficient for lower bowel cancers, not those higher up in the colon. According to the government’s statistics, 25 per cent of bowel cancers will not be detected by Flex Sig. This represents nearly 10,000 patients per year. This is signficant and should be disclosed. Patients should be given impartial information about Flex Sig screening and should not be lulled into a false sense of security by this procedure, The most sensitive test for diagnosing bowel cancer is colonoscopy.

Patricia Miller October 6, 2010

This is very good news, but I think it should be available to anyone over the age of 50 and also to younger people where there is a family history of bowel cancer.

Phyl Day October 6, 2010

Iam agreeing with Linda Undiagnosed , extensive bowel cancer wrought havoc in our family. Still, years later my sister and I live in fear of this disease and would be so relieved to see a reliable test available to all who may be vulnerable This is such encouraging news.

Linda Hearn October 6, 2010

Great news. Bit late for my dad who died of Bowel Cancer, but good news for the rest of my family who have been told it can be hereditary.

Linda October 6, 2010

Fantastic breakthrough Cancer Research need to be lobbying parliament to STOP making the process a postcode lottery. We also need more clarity what the process entails and who it is available to please? Otherwise we are talking an amazing breakthrough to a percentage of the population.

barbaraheap October 6, 2010

It’s very good news. I’d like to see everyone over the age of say 50yrs. being invited for a screening/testing, much like the very sucessful breast screening service now offered and clearly proven to have saved lives- mine included.