Date Published: 5 December 2012

Patients in the UK want advice about the risks and benefits of bowel cancer screening

According to recent research published in the British Journal of Cancer, many people in the UK would welcome a recommendation from the National Health Service (NHS) concerning whether to attend bowel cancer screening, along with all the information on benefits and risks, according to research published in the British Journal of Cancer today.

The study involved interviews with almost 2,000 UK adults aged 50-80. They were asked if they would prefer a recommendation to be screened for bowel cancer from the NHS or advised to make the decision themselves. They were also asked if they wanted to know about all the risks and benefits.

According to the responses given in the study, 84% of adults questioned would prefer an NHS recommendation to attend screening and over 75% of those asked wanted all the available information.

There was no difference in the preference for a recommendation between richer and poorer people or between older and younger. Men were more likely than women to prefer a recommendation.

It has been predicted* that b 2025 bowel screening will save over 2,000 lives from bowel cancer each year in the UK. However, as is true of all medical screening tests, bowel cancer screening is not perfect:

  • Sometimes people are given a 'false positive' result. This means they are sent for follow-up tests (which can be worrying and they have risks of their own) but nothing is found. That is, the initial result is eventually considered a "false alarm".
  • Conversely, sometimes people are given 'false negative' results, a term that is used to refer to indications of possible signs of cancer being missed, i.e. not noticed.

New technologies are being developed and introduced into the bowel cancer screening programme in England.

In 2010, Cancer Research UK helped to fund a trial into the use of the Flexi-scope. The UK government has promised to fund a national programme of Flexi-scope screening due to start early next year.

Professor Jane Wardle, lead author and director of Cancer Research UK's Health Behaviour Research Centre at UCL, said:

" We have seen that most people who wanted a screening recommendation also wanted all the available information. This suggests that advice from an expert is an important part of the decision-making process and not an alternative to it.
_ The study also showed that most people in the UK have a high level of trust in the NHS, which may explain why so many people are so keen to have a clear recommendation from it.
"

Sara Hiom, director of information at Cancer Research UK, said:

" This study gives a much clearer picture about what information people want when being invited to bowel screening. This is very timely and we hope it will help the development of new information for the public.
_ The study's importance goes beyond the information provided by the NHS ? it will also help cancer charities like Cancer Research UK to develop the information we offer to the public about screening.
_ Cancer Research UK funds research into new methods and technologies to prevent and detect bowel cancer earlier, as well as to improve the outcomes for people who are diagnosed with bowel cancer. But it's essential that this work is coupled with accessible information for the general public.
"

* Details of the source of this prediction were not included in the statement about the above.

Source: Cancer Research UK
http://www.cancerresearchuk.org

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Study re. experiences and needs following primary treatment of colorectal cancer - 17 May '12

Bowel cancer screening in England cuts bowel cancer deaths - 9 Dec '11

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Variations in outcomes of bowel cancer surgery in England - 11 Apr '11

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