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Bowel cancer plea as nearly half of older people snub test

By Brett Campbell

Almost half of all older people in Northern Ireland are snubbing the chance to take a life-saving screening test for bowel cancer, research claims.

Statistics show that four in 10 of those aged over 60 are missing out on the opportunity to spot the early signs of the fourth most common cancer and second biggest killer in the UK.

On average, only 59% of eligible residents here are taking advantage of the free screening programme, which can detect the disease at the most crucial stage before symptoms become visible.

Bernie McGarry, senior Northern Ireland health promotion and training officer for Bowel Cancer UK, appealed for everyone who is eligible to take the test. "It's quite simple, bowel cancer screening saves lives," she said.

"I would encourage everyone who's over 60 to take the test, and for those who are younger to encourage their loved ones over 60 to complete it.

"It could save your or your loved one's life."

Uptake rates for the screening, which can make treatment easier and significantly increase a person's chance of survival, vary between different health trusts, but are relatively low in all catchment areas.

The South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust has the highest rate, with 64% of people taking the test, compared to the Belfast Trust, which sees only 55% take the easy screening.

In the Southern Trust the rate of patients taking the test is 57%, compared to 59% in the Western Trust and 63% in the Northern Trust.

Everyone who is registered with a GP and aged between 60 and 74 receives a home testing kit which analyses stools for hidden blood every two years.

But the cancer still kills 400 people here every year despite the fact that it is curable if diagnosed early.

Bowel Cancer UK, which merged with Beating Bowel Cancer earlier this year, is now seeking to raise awareness of the disease, which is diagnosed every 15 minutes.

As part of its ambitious aim to create a future where nobody dies of bowel cancer, the charity is also giving away free wristbands online.

"We're determined to save lives and improve the quality of life of everyone affected by the disease," Ms McGarry said.

"Taking part in screening is the best way to get diagnosed early when treatment is more likely to be successful. Early diagnosis really does save lives."

The screening test can also detect benign growths called polyps which have the potential to turn malignant.

Polyps can be removed easily in order to significantly lower the risk of developing the disease.

Around 268,000 people in the UK are currently living with bowel cancer and 42,000 people are diagnosed each year - 1,100 of those diagnoses are made in Northern Ireland.

Symptoms can include bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in stools; a persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit; unexplained weight loss; extreme tiredness for no obvious reason; or a pain or lump in your tummy.

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