A new life-saving screening programme in Northern Ireland has already diagnosed a number of people with bowel cancer who had no idea they were unwell.
The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety launched the screening programme in April which helps to detect early warning signs of bowel cancer.
After lung cancer, bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in Northern Ireland. It kills more than 400 people in Northern Ireland every year and there are 1,000 new cases annually.
While the screening programme has led to a devastating diagnosis for a number of people here, they can now begin treatment which will significantly improve their chances of beating the disease — when detected at a very early stage, treatment for bowel cancer can be 90% successful.
The screening programme is available to men and women aged 60 to 69 living in the Northern, Western and South Eastern Health Trust areas. Anyone in this category who is registered with a GP will automatically be sent a bowel cancer screening test kit to their home.
The test is used to detect traces of blood in the bowel motion which indicates that further tests need to be carried out.
Only 10 people in every 500 who complete the test kit will have traces of blood in their bowel motion and only one of these will have bowel cancer.
Patients who provide a positive sample are then invited to attend one of Northern Ireland’s three bowel cancer screening colonscopy centres — Whiteabbey, Altnagelvin and Downe hospitals — for further examination.
A spokeswoman for the Public Health Agency said: “To date, 7,976 people have been offered bowel cancer screening, 45 have had a positive screening test of whom 23 have, so far, had a colonoscopy.
“A small number have been diagnosed with bowel cancer or with pre-cancerous polyps.”
Dr Carolyn Harper, of the Public Health Agency, said: “We know that if bowel cancer is diagnosed early, 90% of patients will still be alive at five years — that’s the value of the screening programme.
“Even in its first few weeks, the screening programme has detected cancers in patients who did not have any symptoms. Those patients wouldn’t have been diagnosed if they had ignored the screening test invite. I’d strongly encourage everyone who receives the bowel cancer test kit to complete the test — it literally could save your life.”