Top stomach and guts doctor, William Dickey, is urging people to get screened for bowel cancer with data showing 1,000 new cases and 400 deaths here every year.
Dr Dickey, Clinical Lead in Gastroenterology and Endoscopy at the Western Trust, made the call as part of a Bowel Cancer Awareness Month promotion drive.
Dr Dickey said: “Bowel cancer is the second commonest malignancy in Northern Ireland, with 1000 new cases and 400 deaths due to bowel cancer every year. Around 1 in every 18 people will develop bowel cancer. However, if it is diagnosed early the outlook is very good indeed with a survival rate over 90% and the prospect of complete cure. Unfortunately by the time symptoms develop many cases are advanced. The purpose of screening is to detect bowel cancer at an earlier stage.”
He continued: “Since screening started four years ago, we have diagnosed 59 cancer cases through the programme of which the majority were picked up at an early stage. I cannot stress enough the importance of early intervention. Unfortunately only half of those eligible in the Western Trust area take up the invitation to be screened.”
Dr Tracy Owen, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, Public Health Agency (PHA), said: “The bowel screening programme has been operating for 4 years in Northern Ireland and has detected over 300 cases of cancer.
“We are delighted that we are now in a position to offer screening to a wider age range of the population and from 1 April, the programme includes all men and woman aged 60-74.
“Men and women who are eligible for screening receive a test kit in the post at their home address. It is important that your GP has your most up-to-date address and correct date of birth or you may miss the chance to take part in the programme.
“The simple home test kit can be completed easily in the privacy of your own home and returned to the laboratory for analysis. The kit is used to detect traces of blood in the bowel motion, which indicate that further tests need to be carried out. Most people who are tested will have no blood in their bowel motions and will be invited to repeat the screening test again in two year’s time.”
Latest figures show that only 53 per cent of people in Northern Ireland who are receiving test kits are actually using and returning them.
The PHA and Western Trust would therefore strongly encourage anyone who receives a test kit, to carefully read the enclosed information leaflets to help make them a full informed decision about participating. Screening offers the best chance of early detection of bowel cancer and the earlier it is detected the more successful treatment is likely to be.”
Aside from the screening programme which targets people with no symptoms, it is important that people know the symptoms which bowel cancer may cause so that they can seek medical advice early.