Cancer screening programme hailed
A national bowel cancer screening project could reduce death rates linked to the disease by up to 50%, new research has revealed.
Doctors at St Vincent's Hospital said while the full benefits of screening over-60s will not be fully apparent for another five or 10 years, early figures show patients are being diagnosed much earlier as a result.
Consultant gastroenterologist at the Dublin hospital Dr Glen Doherty said the screening programme will ultimately have a significant impact on bowel cancer deaths across the country.
"Unfortunately most patients with bowel cancer only present with symptoms when the disease is at any advanced stage and has spread to other parts of the body," Dr Doherty said.
"Survival rates with advanced bowel cancer are very poor. However, if we can identify people at an earlier stage, many can be cured with a simple operation."
A national programme, run by the Government-funded National Cancer Screening Service, was rolled out for 60 to 69-year-olds towards the end of 2012.
The screening is available every two years and there are plans for the programme to be eventually extended to cover 55 to 74-year-olds.
Men and women are invited to take a faecal immunochemical test (FIT), which analyses minute fragments of stools for microscopic traces of blood.
Patients carry out the test at home and send a stool sample through the post to a screening centre.
Those with a positive FIT are referred for a colonoscopy to examine the bowel in more detail.
Any pre-cancerous polyps found are removed there and then for biopsy.
Around 200 patients have been screened so far at St Vincent's.
Of them, 133 returned a positive FIT and underwent colonoscopy screening, which was carried out between February and July this year.
Three patients needed a second procedure to clear the colon and two underwent surgery for a non-cancerous tumour.
Twelve of the 133 patients had colorectal carcinoma - cancer. And 10 of them went on to have surgery.
According to the research, those whose cancer was detected were diagnosed at a much earlier stage than would normally be expected.
"What we can see from these results is that, while about 10% already had cancer, two-thirds of the remainder had pre-cancerous growths. If these had not been identified and removed, these patients would have gone on to develop cancer in five or 10 years time," Dr Doherty said.
"The full benefits of screening will probably only be seen in five or 10 years time but if the programme is implemented fully we will see a very significant reduction in deaths related to bowel cancer. I would anticipate up to a 50% decrease in bowel cancer deaths."