50+ health * Healthy living

Cancer breakthrough by UK scientists

New test cut colon cancer deaths by 40 per cent

A one time screening test for bowel cancer cut deaths by 40 per cent and reduced the chances of of it occurring by a third.

Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK, and the second biggest cause of cancer deaths after lung cancer. Each year around 16,000 people due from the disease.

Most colon cancers arise from a type of symptomless growth called an adenoma. As two thirds of these are found in the lower colon and rectum, UK scientists used a single sigmoidoscopy examination as a screening tool to detect growths which may go on to be cancerous.

The examination consists of using a camera on a thin, flexible tube to look for adenomas - a type of growth in the lower colon and rectum.

The study involved 170,000 men and women aged 55-64 years old from England, Scotland and Wales who were followed for an average of 11 years, and over 70 per cent underwent sigmoidscopy screening.

The scientists from Imperial College and University College London say that most growths which become cancerous will already be present in people in their 50s, so screening this age group would give medics the best chance of detecting and removing them.

In the Lancet journal to-day where the study was published, the authors said: “After 11 years of follow-up, colorectal cancer incidence was reduced by a third and colorectal cancer mortality by more than 40 per cent in those who underwent screening.

"Confining results to the rectum and sigmoid (lower) colon, incidence was reduced by half in those who were screened.”

As very few cases were detected after the screening, this suggested screening had a lasting protective effect, they added.

Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK commented: "This is one of those rare occasions to use the word breakthrough. It is extremely rare to see clinical trial results as compelling as these. It is a no-brainer, this has to be introduced.

"Every party is going to have to look at the results of this trial and ask themselves "can we afford not to do this?"

This article was published on Wed 28 April 2010

Image © Alexander Raths - Fotolia.com

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