02:48pm Friday 15 November 2019

New bowel cancer test gets green light with the public

Cancer Research UK scientists asked 1020 people2 who had had a flexible sigmoidoscopy test about any side-effects they experienced and their satisfaction with the procedure.

On balance satisfaction with the test was extremely high, with 97.9 per cent ‘glad’ they had had the test and 97.3 per cent saying they would encourage a friend to have it.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy, also known as Flexi-scope or bowel scope, is a one-off test that will be offered to all 55 year olds in England and will start to be rolled out in 2013 as part of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Programme.  

The test uses a tiny camera on a thin flexible plastic tube to find small growths or polyps inside the bowel. Any polyps found can be painlessly removed to prevent them developing into cancer. Unlike some screening tests that focus only on catching cancer early, this test also reduces the chance of bowel cancer developing.

Pauline Bennett, 65, who had the test as part of another trial said: “At first I was a bit unsure about having the test, particularly as I felt perfectly healthy and hadn’t had any bowel problems. I was also worried about it being painful and what they might find.

“But my fears were completely unfounded. The test was over very quickly and practically painless – just a tiny bit of discomfort. It’s very reassuring to have had the test and know that I’m fine. I’d recommend anyone who gets an invitation to go and have it.”

Dr Katie Robb, Cancer Research UK psychologist and lead author from the University of Glasgow said: “The overwhelmingly positive response in our study suggests that people who are invited to have the new test from March this year are likely to have a similarly favourable experience.”

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in men and the second most common in women. Flexible sigmoidoscopy screening has been found to reduce the occurrence of bowel cancer in people aged 55-64 by a third.

Hazel Nunn, head of health evidence and information at Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s encouraging to see that in this study the vast majority of people who had the test felt, on balance, glad that they had done so.

“This kind of bowel screening has the potential to prevent thousands of cases of bowel cancer each year once it is rolled out.”



1. Robb, K et al, Patient-reported outcomes following flexible sigmoidoscopy screening for colorectal cancer in a demonstration screening programme in the UK (2012) Journal of Medical Screening DOI: 10.1258/jms.2012.012129

Notes to editors

2. 2016 eligible adults aged 58-59 from 34 London general practices were invited to a screening by a National Health Service-endorsed letter. Of these 1024 (51 per cent) attended. Pain and side-effects were assessed in a ‘morning-after’ questionnaire, and satisfaction was assessed in a three-month follow-up questionnaire. Anxiety, self-rated health and colorectal symptoms were assessed at pre-screening and follow-up.

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