New test leads to bowel screening uptake

Tuesday 6th August 2019

The introduction of a simpler test has led to increased participation in Scotland’s bowel screening programme.

A report published by ISD Scotland shows the national uptake rate rose from 55.4% to 63.9% after the new test was introduced – the first time it has been higher than the standard of 60%.

The greatest increase in uptake was among people from more deprived areas, resulting in the screening gap between the most and least deprived areas reducing by around 3%.

However, only 51.7% of people living in the poorest areas participate in the programme, compared to 72.5% in the most affluent areas.

Overall uptake of screening is also lower in men than women, at 61.6% compared to 66.1%.

Gordon Matheson, public affairs manager in Scotland for Cancer Research UK, says the significant rise in screening uptake in the first year of the new test is “good news”, but called for staff shortages in cancer services to be addressed.

He said: “Screening for bowel cancer saves lives, and the new test has helped make it easier for people to take part. This is encouraging because detecting cancer at an early stage means it’s more likely to be treated successfully.

“To ensure the programme’s continued success as demand grows, the Scottish Government must ensure that staff shortages in cancer services are addressed, particularly those who help detect cancer such as endoscopists and pathologists.”

Dr Deepak Dwarakanath, gastroenterologist fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, welcomed the ‘positive impact’ of the new bowel screening test kit.

However, he added: “We note that uptake of screening is lower among men and people in more deprived areas across Scotland.”

He said the causes of bowel cancer are still relatively unknown, but factors included diet, obesity, smoking, alcohol and physical inactivity.

“It’s therefore important that as a population we get more active, cut down on alcohol, stop smoking, and maintain a healthy diet to reduce our chances of developing bowel cancer and other types of cancer,” he said.

Bowel cancer is the third most commonly occurring cancer in Scotland, with the screening programme aimed at identifying the disease at an early stage.

Men and women aged between 50-74 years old are invited to be screened every two years with a postal testing kit which is completed at home.

Scotland became the first part of the UK to introduce the new test in November 2017, that requires the collection of just one sample of faeces instead of three.

Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick says it is particularly encouraging to see an increase in participation from men and those living in more deprived areas.

 “We know that the earlier a cancer is detected, the greater the chances of successful treatment and often cure.

“Screening remains the best way to find bowel cancer early and help reduce health inequalities in cancer outcomes.”