A study has revealed that England’s screening programme has successfully averted 20,000 instances of bowel cancer over the course of a decade.
The initiative, which initially targeted individuals aged 60 and above, since 2006, is now set to extend its reach to those aged 50 and older starting in 2025.
Colorectal cancer ranks as the third most prevalent form of cancer globally, and projections from the World Health Organisation predict a staggering rise to 3.2 million new cases annually by 2040, resulting in 1.6 million deaths each year.
In the UK, nearly 43,000 individuals are diagnosed with bowel cancer annually, The Guardian reported.
The routine NHS bowel cancer screening reduces the likelihood of succumbing to bowel cancer which stands as the fourth most prevalent form of the disease.
Screening plays a pivotal role in averting bowel cancer or detecting it in its initial phases, facilitating more effective treatment.
The typical progression of bowel cancer involves the development of polyps over a span of 10 to 15 years.
Symptoms include changes in toilet habits, abdominal pain, and the presence of blood in stools.
National screening programmes strive to prevent colorectal cancer by identifying and removing polyps before they turn cancerous.
The NHS screening initiative was initially launched in 2006 for adults aged 60 to 69, eventually expanding in 2010 to include individuals aged 60 to 74.
Participants receive an NHS bowel cancer stool sample kit every two years, and if blood is detected, they are offered a colonoscopy.
Research conducted by the University of Bristol and University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust, utilising data from the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service database, analyzed bowel cancer rates before and after the inception of the screening programme.
The findings indicate that rates of colorectal cancer in the lowermost portion of the large bowel have declined by almost 15% since the introduction of the programme in 2006, potentially preventing around 20,000 cases.
However, the reduction for cancers in the uppermost section of the colon was minimal due to the inherent challenges in detecting and removing polyps through colonoscopy.
Dr David Messenger, co-author of the report and consultant colorectal surgeon at Bristol Royal Infirmary, suggests that the study warrants consideration for offering screening to younger adults, given the rising incidence of bowel cancer among individuals under 50.
Dr Lisa Wilde, from Bowel Cancer UK, emphasises the significance of screening and highlights the potential impact of enhancing the screening programme to enhance its effectiveness.
She urges eligible individuals to participate in screening, emphasising its potential to save lives.
Additionally, Dr Claire Knight, senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK, welcomes the study’s promising outcomes, noting that it could potentially reduce cases among those screened, particularly in more disadvantaged areas where the risk of developing bowel cancer is higher.
To ascertain the full extent of bowel cancer screening’s preventive capabilities and early detection potential, further research over extended periods will be necessary.
Along with the primary symptoms of bowel cancer including blood in the stools, alterations in bowel patterns, increased frequency or diarrhea, bloating, a decrease in appetite might manifest, coupled with unintended and substantial weight loss and unexplained fatigue.
While these symptoms don’t necessarily indicate bowel cancer for most individuals, it is recommended to consult a general practitioner if any of these symptoms are experienced for a duration exceeding four weeks.