When a Hampshire resident who’s registered with a GP celebrates their 60th birthday, an unusual parcel arrives in the post. It is not the average birthday present, but it’s one that could save their life.
Contained within it is a prepaid return envelope, six cardboard sticks, a cardboard test kit and a request that they take samples of their bowel movements and return the kit in the envelope. It might seem strange or a little embarrassing, but this simple test can detect early signs of cancer – and has been doing so for the past decade.
The Hampshire Bowel Cancer Screening Programme is a service provided by University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust in collaboration with Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Based at the Royal South Hants Hospital, it was set up in 2008 as part of a national programme designed to diagnose bowel cancer earlier.
Research has shown that, if diagnosed at the earliest stage, 90% of bowel cancer patients will survive for more than five years following their diagnosis. Patients whose cancer is found through screening also have a better chance of beating the disease than those who are diagnosed after they develop symptoms.
The service has expanded since it began. At first, screening was offered every two years to all men and women aged between 60 and 69, before the age range was extended to 74 in 2013. A new screening test was also introduced in 2015; the bowel scope screening is a one-off test offered to 55-year-olds that uses a thin, flexible camera to look inside the bowel with the aim of finding and removing polyps that could become cancerous. It’s currently being rolled out across Hampshire, and is already available to patients at around half of GP surgeries.
In the programme’s first decade 736,904 invitations to take part in screening were sent out. Of those 497,068 tests were returned, with 7,778 abnormal results. Further testing found 697 cases of bowel cancer that could otherwise have been missed until much later. The bowel scope programme has found an additional five.
Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of death from cancer in the UK. Despite this, around 36% of people who receive a screening test don’t return it. The programme team is working to improve this, identifying vulnerable groups and supporting them to access the service. Work is also currently underway to ensure that the prison population and those who are homeless don’t miss out on potentially lifesaving screening.
Dr Praful Patel is the director of the bowel cancer screening programme. For him, the programme’s message to the public is simple: “Take part in bowel cancer screening – it reduces your risk of developing bowel cancer, and may even save your life.”
For more information on bowel cancer screening, visit NHS Choices.
Posted on Friday 27 April 2018