cancerous, is seen as a strategy that could transform prevention and early detection of the disease. In the study group examined, incidence of bowel cancer fell by a third.
Scientists said yesterday that the research, published on The Lancet website, made the national introduction of the one-off test for all men and women at the age of 55 a “no brainer”.
A quarter of the volunteers in the 16-year study underwent a sigmoidoscopy, where a camera mounted on a thin, flexible tube known as a Flexi-Scope was inserted about a third of the way into the bowel. Most bowel cancers stem from polyps or symptomless growths in the rectum and colon and where these were found they were removed in a safe and pain-free procedure, the researchers said.
Researchers also said that the test could save thousands of lives every year. Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in Britain and the second biggest cancer killer.
The present screening method, called the faecal occult blood test, shows any traces of blood in stools and helps to detect the cancer at an early stage. This test, which has been extended to people over 60, would continue as it can identify cancers farther up the bowel.
Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, described the study, which started in 1994 and is the largest and longest running of its kind, as “one of those rare occasions to use the word ‘breakthrough’ ”.
He called for the next government to add the test to the bowel cancer screening programme urgently. “It is extremely rare to see the results of a clinical trial which are quite as compelling as this one and which has quite the huge impact in terms of the potential for improving cancer outcomes.”
He added: “We have a tremendous opportunity now to use this procedure to push bowel cancer cases back down the league of cancer cases in the UK.”
The scientists said that rates of bowel cancer diagnosis — about 100 people a day — would drop quickly with a national programme.
Professor Wendy Atkin, from Imperial College London, who led the research, said: “Our study shows for the first time that we could dramatically reduce the incidence of bowel cancer, and the number of people dying from the disease, by using this one-off test. No other bowel cancer screening technique has ever been shown to prevent the disease.”
The study was funded by the Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research and Cancer Research UK.
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Images show volcano intensifying
In the satellite pictures, which use infrared wavelengths, the ash plume appears as bright orange colours spreading out from the volcano. The plume gradually increased in size over a period of approximately six hours
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