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Doctors could encourage greater take-up of bowel cancer tests

Thursday 4th February 2016
GPs endorsement could encourage more people to be tested for bowel cancer. Image: iStock/xrender
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Doctors may be able to encourage greater take-up of home bowel cancer tests in the UK, according to new research.

A study published in the British Journal of Cancer following funding from the National Institute for Health Research led to the discovery that an additional 40,000 people could be screened for the disease if GPs get involved in the test invitation process.

Currently, approximately 42,100 new cases of the potentially life-threatening illness are diagnosed each year in the UK, although death rates have declined by around 13 per cent over the last ten years. However, some 15,000 people still die from the disease in the country annually.

Dr Jodie Moffat, head of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK, explained: "GPs aren't routinely involved in the bowel screening programme because the test is done at home, and this lack of involvement can discourage some people from taking part."

At present, people aged between 60 and 74 in Britain are invited to take a faecal occult blood test in their homes every two years, with invitation letters coming from the country's national screening programme.

The researchers experimented by adding an endorsement from people's local GPs to the bottom of their letters and found that this successfully encouraged greater uptake of bowel cancer tests.

Over 265,000 individuals were involved in the research in total, with a significantly higher percentage being encouraged to undergo a home test after receiving a doctor-endorsed letter.

Altogether, the study authors believe this increase in the take-up of testing could lead to an extra 61 cases of bowel cancer being diagnosed each year in the UK, equating to more than one a week.

What's more, it is hoped that the bowel screening programme will save over 2,000 lives every year between now and 2025.

Dr Moffat concluded: "It's up to individuals whether or not to take the test, but this research highlights the power of engaging with GP practices to help more people benefit from the bowel screening programme."

Written by James Puckle

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