EIGHTY people who were unaware they had bowel cancer have been picked up by a national screening programme.
Bowelscreen began in late 2012 and is inviting people aged 60 to 69 years to avail of the potentially life-saving tests.
However, just 42pc of the 130,000 people who were offered the test to date have availed of it – an uptake rate in line with the early stages of similar bowel-screening programmes abroad, which tend to see less take-up than those for conditions like breast cancer.
Medical director Dr Alan Smith said many of the 80 people whose cancer was picked up may have had no symptoms, or any knowledge that anything was wrong with them.
"This programme saved their lives," he said.
He added that in terms of bowel-screening programmes, the 42pc uptake "is pretty good. We are aiming to get that to 45pc this year and 50pc in 2015".
Bowel cancer is the second most common form of the disease among men and women in Ireland, with almost 2,400 newly-diagnosed patients annually and 970 deaths.
The screening involves sending a test kit to the person's home, inviting them to post back small samples from the bowel motion (also called a stool). This is analysed and up to 95pc have a normal result. Around 5pc, or 2,000, have so far been asked to have a more intensive test in hospital, known as a colonoscopy, if there are traces of blood.
The programme, which is being introduced on a phased basis, will invite 200,000 this year and the same number in 2015. The hope is to extend it to other age groups in their mid to late fifties and early seventies.
Dr Smith said: "There are many reasons for the take-up rate. There is a lack of familiarity with the test and men are involved as well. They tend to be less inclined to take part in health promotion and health prevention initiatives."
Those who undergo a test in the eligible age group will be invited for another every two years.
Professor Diarmuid O'Donoghue, clinical lead, stressed that the "continued success of the programme for both the individual and our entire population is very much dependent on everybody acting on their invitation.
"It is so important to take part when invited. The vast majority of people will have a normal home test result and be invited again in two years' time, yet for a small number this home test may indicate something that requires further investigation, which is so important as if bowel cancer is found early, there is a much better chance of treating it successfully."
People can check if they are on the register by calling freephone 1800 45 45 55.