Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Britain is a country where bowel cancer screening is a lottery for old men

According to Cancer Research UK, one in 14, mostly, but not exclusively, old men and one in 19 women in Britain will be diagnosed with bowel cancer and about 16,000 people die from the disease each year. If caught early, at stage one, patients have a 97% survival rate for at least five years, but discovered later, at stage four, this falls to just 5% for men and 10% for women. After prostate cancer, it is the most common cancer for men and level pegging with lung cancer.

At the moment there are two types of test used in the NHS for bowel cancer screening :

* bowelscope screening - a test where a thin, flexible tube with a camera at the end is used to look for and remove any polyps inside the bowel.

* home testing kit - the FOB test - a kit used to collect samples of excrement and post them to a lab so that they can be checked for small amounts of blood, which could be caused by cancer.

As things stand at the moment bowel cancer screening starts at the age of 50 in Scotland but bowelscope screening is not until 55 in England, but not Wales and Northern Ireland and then, only in those areas where it is available. The the standard method is the home testing kit offered once every two years between the age of 60 and 74. Presumably, after the age of 74, old men and women aren't worth the expenditure.

BBC news presenter, George Alagiah, has said his bowel cancer could have been caught earlier if the screening programme in England was the same as in Scotland. He was first diagnosed four years ago, at the age of 58 and last Christmas he was told that the cancer had returned and it’s now stage four.

Now, with supreme irony, 61 year old Andrew Lansley, who served in David Cameron's Conservative Government from 2010-12 as the minister responsible for the Nation's health, has fallen victim to bowel cancer.

He said : "When I was Health Secretary, among the early plans for cancer investment that David Cameron and I announced in October 2010, was a commitment to introduce a one-off flexible Sigmoidoscopy, or 'bowelscope' test, at age 55, with a pilot leading to a national roll-out across England by the end of 2016. If this had happened, I would have been called to this new screening programme. But the 'bowelscope' is only available to about 50% of the population. A lack of endoscopists and difficulties with IT have frustrated delivery. Bowelscope could save 3,000 lives a year, but training and recruiting endoscopists and support staff will take years.”

Apparently, the Government aims to introduce a test for bowel cancer called FIT, 'Faecal Immunochemical Test', which should increase screening, detect more cancers and requires fewer endoscopies than Bowelscope. Andrew said that FIT : “should now be an immediate focus with a roll-out this year in addition to following Scotland’s lead by bringing forward the screening age to 50. I was fortunate that I was in a hospital that does conduct such testing.”

He described himself as "lucky" to have seen a GP who had referred him to a specialist and a “first-rate” NHS surgical team, who were responsible for his seven-hour operation but added that cancer survival “must not be about luck”.

Britain : A country where bowel cancer detection is a lottery and old men in Scotland have a better chance of having their bowel cancer detected than those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and half of those in England have a better chance than all the rest. 

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