Tag Archives: bowel

Seven ways … to prevent bowel cancer

Be vigilant

Be aware of early warning signs (blood in stool, frequent/loose stools, abdominal pain/bloating after eating, or weight loss) and see your GP if you are concerned. But don’t panic. Colorectal (bowel) cancer is the third leading cause of deaths from cancer in the developed world, but only 5.4% of us will develop it. The good news is that colorectal cancer deaths have decreased by 30% in the past 20 years – partly because of screening, earlier detection and better treatment.

Especially if you’re over 60

Age is the greatest risk factor: 99% of cases occur in people over 40 and 85% in people over 60. Most people diagnosed are in their 70s. Unfortunately, it’s often older people who are most reluctant to report abnormal bowel symptoms.

Know your family history

It’s important to know your family’s medical history, with the proviso that most people who get bowel cancer don’t have any particular inherited tendency and their children won’t be at increased risk compared with the general population. But in 5-6% of cases there is a genetic predisposition and there are likely to have been other cases in the family. If you have a single first-degree relative with bowel cancer, your risk is two to three times higher than average (or higher if that relative was under 45 years old when they developed the cancer). If you have two affected first-degree relatives, your risk may be as high as four times the average. The most common inherited conditions that cause bowel cancer are familial adenomatous polyposis and Lynch syndrome.

Stay slim and active

Obesity increases the risk of developing and dying from bowel cancer by 1.5 times. The association is stronger for men than women. If you are obese, try to stay active; physical activity seems to offset some of the increased risk of being overweight. Most studies suggest that eating lots of fibre reduces the risk, but that may be partly because people who are a healthy weight tend to have a high-fibre diet.

Easy on the meat

Processed, smoked and cured meats can increase the risk of bowel cancer because they contain chemicals called nitrosamines. People who eat the most processed meat have about a 17% higher risk of developing bowel cancer, compared with those who eat the least. That means 56 out of 1,000 people may get bowel cancer among people who never eat processed meat, 61 out of 1,000 average meat eaters and 66 out of 1,000 among those who eat the most processed meat. The NHS advice is that red meat (pork, beef and lamb) is a good source of protein, but that eating more than 90g a day is associated with an increased risk of bowel cancer. One lamb chop is 70g, so if you have a couple of chops, you may want to give red meat a miss the following day.

An aspirin a day?

Taking a low dose (75mg) of aspirin a day for five years may reduce your risk of bowel cancer, but the risk of gastric bleeding is thought to outweigh the potential benefits. The jury is still out on this one. Likewise, there is no robust evidence yet that statins or hormone replacement therapy prevent bowel cancer.

Get screened

Anyone at greater than average risk of bowel cancer (positive family history, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease) will be advised about whether and when to have screening with colonoscopy. For the rest of us, the national screening programme in England kicks in aged 55, with a one-off bowel scope screening test in some areas (this is the test Andrew Lansley – the former health secretary who now has bowel cancer – wants rolled out more widely, as it’s currently only available to 50% of eligible people). Those between 60 and 74 years old get sent a home-testing kit once every two years to detect blood in the stool with further investigation if positive. If you want to carry on doing the home test every two years over the age of 75, you can phone the bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60 to request a kit. In Scotland, the programme starts at 50 and broadcaster George Alagiah, who also has bowel cancer, is campaigning for the same service to be provided across the UK.

Seven ways … to manage irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome may be inherited. It is linked to oversensitive nerves in the gut, causing debilitating pains and cramps among other symptoms. But there are ways to manage it and reduce its impact on your life.

Consider medication

Speak to your doctor about what is recommended for your particular type of IBS. If you have IBS with constipation (IBS-C), then laxatives could help. These range from osmotic laxatives, which increase water inside the colon, to cathartic laxatives, which stimulate the colon walls, although the latter may not be effective long-term. If you have IBS with diarrhoea (IBS-D), then over-the-counter medications such as loperamide can help control your symptoms.

Try probiotics

Research has suggested that changes in gut flora may trigger IBS by increasing inflammation and altering digestive motility. For some people, probiotics – available in capsules, powders and yoghurts – can alleviate symptoms, balancing gut flora by inhibiting the growth of disease-causing bacteria, slowing down bowel movements and fighting inflammation.

Move to a high-fibre diet

If you have IBS-C or IBS-D, then increasing dietary fibre with fruit, vegetables, beans, whole-grain breads and cereals may relieve symptoms. High-fat meals can cause problems by inducing vigorous colon contractions more rapidly than usual, which can trigger cramping and diarrhoea. However, IBS has quite a wide spectrum and only one in six IBS patients experience improvements from this diet. Others find that it worsens symptoms, and may benefit from a different regime such as a ketogenic (low carb) diet, aimed at reducing inflammation.

Take exercise

Research has suggested that 30 minutes of exercise, such as walking at a moderate pace, five days a week can significantly help to ease common symptoms such as constipation and abdominal cramps. It is best to consult your doctor about what exercise regime may be suitable, but try to keep a routine so you exercise at the same time each day and avoid exercising within an hour of meals.

Reduce your stress levels

Stress is widely thought to trigger IBS, partly because of the neural connections between the brain and the gut, and any external stressors make the mind more aware of painful colon spasms. IBS may be an auto-immune disorder, and the immune system is heavily affected by stress. Try to make time in your day for relaxation sessions and, if you have a stressful life, consider taking up yoga or meditation, or practise breathing exercises.

Keep a food diary

IBS patients have different triggers, so keep a daily diary of all the foods and drinks that make your symptoms flare up. If you experience bloating, you may want to try eliminating gas-producing foods such as resistant starch (found in cold potatoes and bread), beans, cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, and carbonated drinks. Fructose, found in sweet vegetables and fruit, can also trigger diarrhoea, gas and bloating in IBS sufferers, and it is worth remembering that one in 10 IBS sufferers are lactose intolerant, so minimising dairy products can provide relief. Caffeine can make diarrhoea worse, so limit coffee and tea to three cups a day.

Try peppermint oil

Studies have shown that peppermint oil may be effective in reducing the severity of abdominal cramps and spasms, bloating and the intensity of bowel movement urgency and pain when passing stools, particularly in patients with IBS-D. Try purchasing enteric-coated peppermint oil, specially coated tablets that slowly release the oil in the small intestine.

Seven ways … to manage irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome may be inherited. It is linked to oversensitive nerves in the gut, causing debilitating pains and cramps among other symptoms. But there are ways to manage it and reduce its impact on your life.

Consider medication

Speak to your doctor about what is recommended for your particular type of IBS. If you have IBS with constipation (IBS-C), then laxatives could help. These range from osmotic laxatives, which increase water inside the colon, to cathartic laxatives, which stimulate the colon walls, although the latter may not be effective long-term. If you have IBS with diarrhoea (IBS-D), then over-the-counter medications such as loperamide can help control your symptoms.

Try probiotics

Research has suggested that changes in gut flora may trigger IBS by increasing inflammation and altering digestive motility. For some people, probiotics – available in capsules, powders and yoghurts – can alleviate symptoms, balancing gut flora by inhibiting the growth of disease-causing bacteria, slowing down bowel movements and fighting inflammation.

Move to a high-fibre diet

If you have IBS-C or IBS-D, then increasing dietary fibre with fruit, vegetables, beans, whole-grain breads and cereals may relieve symptoms. High-fat meals can cause problems by inducing vigorous colon contractions more rapidly than usual, which can trigger cramping and diarrhoea. However, IBS has quite a wide spectrum and only one in six IBS patients experience improvements from this diet. Others find that it worsens symptoms, and may benefit from a different regime such as a ketogenic (low carb) diet, aimed at reducing inflammation.

Take exercise

Research has suggested that 30 minutes of exercise, such as walking at a moderate pace, five days a week can significantly help to ease common symptoms such as constipation and abdominal cramps. It is best to consult your doctor about what exercise regime may be suitable, but try to keep a routine so you exercise at the same time each day and avoid exercising within an hour of meals.

Reduce your stress levels

Stress is widely thought to trigger IBS, partly because of the neural connections between the brain and the gut, and any external stressors make the mind more aware of painful colon spasms. IBS may be an auto-immune disorder, and the immune system is heavily affected by stress. Try to make time in your day for relaxation sessions and, if you have a stressful life, consider taking up yoga or meditation, or practise breathing exercises.

Keep a food diary

IBS patients have different triggers, so keep a daily diary of all the foods and drinks that make your symptoms flare up. If you experience bloating, you may want to try eliminating gas-producing foods such as resistant starch (found in cold potatoes and bread), beans, cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, and carbonated drinks. Fructose, found in sweet vegetables and fruit, can also trigger diarrhoea, gas and bloating in IBS sufferers, and it is worth remembering that one in 10 IBS sufferers are lactose intolerant, so minimising dairy products can provide relief. Caffeine can make diarrhoea worse, so limit coffee and tea to three cups a day.

Try peppermint oil

Studies have shown that peppermint oil may be effective in reducing the severity of abdominal cramps and spasms, bloating and the intensity of bowel movement urgency and pain when passing stools, particularly in patients with IBS-D. Try purchasing enteric-coated peppermint oil, specially coated tablets that slowly release the oil in the small intestine.

Seven ways … to manage irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome may be inherited. It is linked to oversensitive nerves in the gut, causing debilitating pains and cramps among other symptoms. But there are ways to manage it and reduce its impact on your life.

Consider medication

Speak to your doctor about what is recommended for your particular type of IBS. If you have IBS with constipation (IBS-C), then laxatives could help. These range from osmotic laxatives, which increase water inside the colon, to cathartic laxatives, which stimulate the colon walls, although the latter may not be effective long-term. If you have IBS with diarrhoea (IBS-D), then over-the-counter medications such as loperamide can help control your symptoms.

Try probiotics

Research has suggested that changes in gut flora may trigger IBS by increasing inflammation and altering digestive motility. For some people, probiotics – available in capsules, powders and yoghurts – can alleviate symptoms, balancing gut flora by inhibiting the growth of disease-causing bacteria, slowing down bowel movements and fighting inflammation.

Move to a high-fibre diet

If you have IBS-C or IBS-D, then increasing dietary fibre with fruit, vegetables, beans, whole-grain breads and cereals may relieve symptoms. High-fat meals can cause problems by inducing vigorous colon contractions more rapidly than usual, which can trigger cramping and diarrhoea. However, IBS has quite a wide spectrum and only one in six IBS patients experience improvements from this diet. Others find that it worsens symptoms, and may benefit from a different regime such as a ketogenic (low carb) diet, aimed at reducing inflammation.

Take exercise

Research has suggested that 30 minutes of exercise, such as walking at a moderate pace, five days a week can significantly help to ease common symptoms such as constipation and abdominal cramps. It is best to consult your doctor about what exercise regime may be suitable, but try to keep a routine so you exercise at the same time each day and avoid exercising within an hour of meals.

Reduce your stress levels

Stress is widely thought to trigger IBS, partly because of the neural connections between the brain and the gut, and any external stressors make the mind more aware of painful colon spasms. IBS may be an auto-immune disorder, and the immune system is heavily affected by stress. Try to make time in your day for relaxation sessions and, if you have a stressful life, consider taking up yoga or meditation, or practise breathing exercises.

Keep a food diary

IBS patients have different triggers, so keep a daily diary of all the foods and drinks that make your symptoms flare up. If you experience bloating, you may want to try eliminating gas-producing foods such as resistant starch (found in cold potatoes and bread), beans, cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, and carbonated drinks. Fructose, found in sweet vegetables and fruit, can also trigger diarrhoea, gas and bloating in IBS sufferers, and it is worth remembering that one in 10 IBS sufferers are lactose intolerant, so minimising dairy products can provide relief. Caffeine can make diarrhoea worse, so limit coffee and tea to three cups a day.

Try peppermint oil

Studies have shown that peppermint oil may be effective in reducing the severity of abdominal cramps and spasms, bloating and the intensity of bowel movement urgency and pain when passing stools, particularly in patients with IBS-D. Try purchasing enteric-coated peppermint oil, specially coated tablets that slowly release the oil in the small intestine.

Seven ways … to manage irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome may be inherited. It is linked to oversensitive nerves in the gut, causing debilitating pains and cramps among other symptoms. But there are ways to manage it and reduce its impact on your life.

Consider medication

Speak to your doctor about what is recommended for your particular type of IBS. If you have IBS with constipation (IBS-C), then laxatives could help. These range from osmotic laxatives, which increase water inside the colon, to cathartic laxatives, which stimulate the colon walls, although the latter may not be effective long-term. If you have IBS with diarrhoea (IBS-D), then over-the-counter medications such as loperamide can help control your symptoms.

Try probiotics

Research has suggested that changes in gut flora may trigger IBS by increasing inflammation and altering digestive motility. For some people, probiotics – available in capsules, powders and yoghurts – can alleviate symptoms, balancing gut flora by inhibiting the growth of disease-causing bacteria, slowing down bowel movements and fighting inflammation.

Move to a high-fibre diet

If you have IBS-C or IBS-D, then increasing dietary fibre with fruit, vegetables, beans, whole-grain breads and cereals may relieve symptoms. High-fat meals can cause problems by inducing vigorous colon contractions more rapidly than usual, which can trigger cramping and diarrhoea. However, IBS has quite a wide spectrum and only one in six IBS patients experience improvements from this diet. Others find that it worsens symptoms, and may benefit from a different regime such as a ketogenic (low carb) diet, aimed at reducing inflammation.

Take exercise

Research has suggested that 30 minutes of exercise, such as walking at a moderate pace, five days a week can significantly help to ease common symptoms such as constipation and abdominal cramps. It is best to consult your doctor about what exercise regime may be suitable, but try to keep a routine so you exercise at the same time each day and avoid exercising within an hour of meals.

Reduce your stress levels

Stress is widely thought to trigger IBS, partly because of the neural connections between the brain and the gut, and any external stressors make the mind more aware of painful colon spasms. IBS may be an auto-immune disorder, and the immune system is heavily affected by stress. Try to make time in your day for relaxation sessions and, if you have a stressful life, consider taking up yoga or meditation, or practise breathing exercises.

Keep a food diary

IBS patients have different triggers, so keep a daily diary of all the foods and drinks that make your symptoms flare up. If you experience bloating, you may want to try eliminating gas-producing foods such as resistant starch (found in cold potatoes and bread), beans, cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, and carbonated drinks. Fructose, found in sweet vegetables and fruit, can also trigger diarrhoea, gas and bloating in IBS sufferers, and it is worth remembering that one in 10 IBS sufferers are lactose intolerant, so minimising dairy products can provide relief. Caffeine can make diarrhoea worse, so limit coffee and tea to three cups a day.

Try peppermint oil

Studies have shown that peppermint oil may be effective in reducing the severity of abdominal cramps and spasms, bloating and the intensity of bowel movement urgency and pain when passing stools, particularly in patients with IBS-D. Try purchasing enteric-coated peppermint oil, specially coated tablets that slowly release the oil in the small intestine.

NHS patients waiting months for vital bowel cancer tests, figures show

Patients with one of the most lethal forms of cancer are having to wait months to have vital diagnostic tests, in a new sign of the relentless pressure on NHS services.

People suspected of having bowel cancer are facing waits of three months for tests when they should have them within a maximum of six weeks, the latest NHS waiting time figures show.

In March almost half the patients referred for the disease to Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust had to wait more than the six weeks set out in the NHS constitution. In all 144 (49.3%) of the 292 patients that month had to ensure waits of several months, and 39 of them were kept waiting for more than 13 weeks.

Campigners warned that patients could die as a result of the delays in patients undergoing either a colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy, the two tests used to detect bowel cancer.

Prof Colin Rees, vice-president of the British Society of Gastroenterology, said: “By testing the right people at the right time we can save lives and stop people dying needlessly.”

In March 24% of hospital trusts in England missed the six-week target for colonoscopy, which meant that 1,121 patients were kept waiting. In the same month, 18% of hospitals breached the six-week target for flexi-sigmoidoscopy.

Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK, said the waiting times “present a worrying picture for patients”. She identified a lack of diagnotic staff as a key problem and lamented the latest of several delays in Health Education England publishing a plan, first promised in 2015, to boost the NHS cancer workforce.

About 41,000 people a year in the UK develop bowel cancer and around 16,000 die from it. It is Britain’s fourth most deadly cancer after lung, breast and prostate.

Meanwhile, NHS performance against its key waiting times targets is now the highest it has been for five years, NHS Englnd’s latest statistics show.

During 2015-16, 2.5 million people were not treated within four hours of arriving in A&E, and a total of 362,687 patients did not receive planned care in hospital – usually an operation – within 18 weeks.

Another 26,113 waited longer than 62 days for supposedly urgent cancer treatment after being referred by their GP, while 985,583 people with a life-threatening condition waited more than the maximum eight minutes for an ambulance to respond to an 999 call.

“These figures reveal the dismal human cost of the NHS crisis,” said Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman. “Millions of patients are waiting in distress and anxiety, but Theresa may doesn’t care.”

Responding to the latest monthly statistics, a Conservative spokesman said: “These figures show A&E performance has improved a great deal since the equivalent time last year. Waiting times for an operation again got shorter in March, and crucially patient outcomes continue to improve. Breast cancer survival is at its highest ever level.”

The figures came as the Health Foundation warned that the care patients receive is under threat because of the NHS’s unprecedented financial squeeze.

In a report, the thinktank says: “It is difficult to see how the intense financial pressures on all NHS and social care services will not threaten the quality of care in the near future if nothing changes.

“As OECD analyses have shown, the UK’s performance on quality is middling when compared with other OECD countries, but then so are our funding levels.”

Antibiotics overuse could increase bowel cancer risk, study finds

The overuse of antibiotics could increase a person’s risk of developing bowel cancer, the findings of a US study suggest.

Research published in medical journal Gut found extended use of antibiotics significantly increased the chance of polyp formation in the colon, a precursor of bowel cancer.

The findings add weight to emerging evidence that the type and diversity of bacteria in the gut may have a key role in the development of cancer, according to the authors of the study.

An Australian bowel cancer expert, Associate Professor Graham Newstead, the head of the colorectal unit at the Prince of Wales private hospital and director of Bowel Cancer Australia, said the research had “credence”.

“We know already that if you take antibiotics you frequently get diarrhoea,” Newstead said.

This happened because the antibiotic killed some of the normal bacteria, leading to an overgrowth of the abnormal bacteria in the gut.

But Newstead said the study did not look at the effect of antibiotics on the colon and caution must be taken.

US researchers monitored the health of more than 120,000 nurses, aged between 30 and 55, who were part of the the Nurses Health Study launched in 1976.

Between 2004 and 2010, 1,194 abnormal growths in the colon and rectum were diagnosed.

Those who had taken antibiotics for two months or more between the ages of 20 and 39 were 36% more likely to be diagnosed with an adenoma, or polyp, compared with those who had not taken antibiotics for any extended period in their 20s and 30s.

Similarly, women who had taken antibiotics for two months or more during their 40s and 50s were 69% more likely to be diagnosed with an adenoma.

And those who had taken these drugs for 15 days or more between the ages of 20 and 39, and between the ages of 40 and 59, were 73% more likely to be diagnosed with an adenoma.

“It does seem to indicate that people who have too many antibiotics might be at more risk of of getting polyps than people who have less of them,” Newstead said.

“And, remembering that not all polyps turn to cancer but the cancer comes from the polyps. If you have more polyps or tendency to get polyps then maybe you are slightly more at risk of getting cancer.”

The message to be taken from the study was not to use antibiotics for a “tickle” in the throat or a cold, Newstead said.

New screening test cuts bowel cancer risk by a third, study finds

A one-off screening test being introduced across the NHS cuts the risk of developing bowel cancer by a third, a long-term study has found.

The test, which is being rolled out across England, will invite men and women to have bowel scope screening around the time of their 55th birthday.

This is in addition to the current test from the age of 60, the faecal occult blood test (FOB), which is posted to people’s homes.

FOB detects blood hidden in small samples of faeces, with further tests recommended if blood is detected.

Research published in the medical journal the Lancet has found that the bowel scope test reduces the risk of all cases of the cancer by a third. Experts predict it will save thousands of lives every year.

It works by threading a tiny camera attached to a thin flexible tube into the lower part of the bowel. As well as detecting tumours, it helps spot small growths, called polyps, on the bowel wall. If left untreated polyps can become cancerous, and any found during a bowel scope can usually be removed immediately.

Bowel scope screening will not detect cancers higher up in the bowel and patients may need a colonoscopy if they have persistent symptoms.

But the research found the new test was able to prevent 35% of bowel cancers overall and 40% of deaths.

In the lower bowel, the test prevented more than half of potential cancers from developing in that area.

Researchers from Imperial College London followed more than 170,000 people for 17 years on average, of whom more than 40,000 had the bowel scope test.

There are more than 41,000 new cases of bowel cancer every year in the UK, and about 16,000 deaths.

Prof Wendy Atkin, Cancer Research UK’s bowel screening expert and lead author at Imperial, said: “Although no screening test is perfect, this study shows that bowel scope is effective in reducing cancer deaths for at least 17 years.

“Bowel cancer can be prevented. And the bowel scope screening test is a great way to reduce the number of people diagnosed with the disease so it’s vital that no one misses out on the opportunity to get the test.”

Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s head of health information, said: “Like other types of screening, bowel scope is meant for people without symptoms. It’s a great way to help reduce the number of people developing or dying from bowel cancer, but it can’t pick up everything.

“So it’s still important to take part in the rest of the bowel screening programme and not ignore the home testing kits when they arrive.”

The government estimates the bowel scope test will take at least another three years before it will be offered to everyone eligible across England. This is in order to train specialist staff to carry out the tests. Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have not yet committed to introducing the test.

The research was funded by the Medical Research Council and National Institute for Health Research. About half of bowel cancers occur in the lower part of the bowel and the rectum – the area covered by the bowel scope test.

The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said: “This report is really encouraging – prevention and early diagnosis are key to improving outcomes, and this new screening test could help us save thousands more lives.

“Cancer survival is at its highest rate ever, but more must be done: we are investing £300 million a year by 2020 to increase diagnostic capacity for all cancers, so we can save more from this devastating disease.”

New screening test cuts bowel cancer risk by a third, study finds

A one-off screening test being introduced across the NHS cuts the risk of developing bowel cancer by a third, a long-term study has found.

The test, which is being rolled out across England, will invite men and women to have bowel scope screening around the time of their 55th birthday.

This is in addition to the current test from the age of 60, the faecal occult blood test (FOB), which is posted to people’s homes.

FOB detects blood hidden in small samples of faeces, with further tests recommended if blood is detected.

Research published in the medical journal the Lancet has found that the bowel scope test reduces the risk of all cases of the cancer by a third. Experts predict it will save thousands of lives every year.

It works by threading a tiny camera attached to a thin flexible tube into the lower part of the bowel. As well as detecting tumours, it helps spot small growths, called polyps, on the bowel wall. If left untreated polyps can become cancerous, and any found during a bowel scope can usually be removed immediately.

Bowel scope screening will not detect cancers higher up in the bowel and patients may need a colonoscopy if they have persistent symptoms.

But the research found the new test was able to prevent 35% of bowel cancers overall and 40% of deaths.

In the lower bowel, the test prevented more than half of potential cancers from developing in that area.

Researchers from Imperial College London followed more than 170,000 people for 17 years on average, of whom more than 40,000 had the bowel scope test.

There are more than 41,000 new cases of bowel cancer every year in the UK, and about 16,000 deaths.

Prof Wendy Atkin, Cancer Research UK’s bowel screening expert and lead author at Imperial, said: “Although no screening test is perfect, this study shows that bowel scope is effective in reducing cancer deaths for at least 17 years.

“Bowel cancer can be prevented. And the bowel scope screening test is a great way to reduce the number of people diagnosed with the disease so it’s vital that no one misses out on the opportunity to get the test.”

Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s head of health information, said: “Like other types of screening, bowel scope is meant for people without symptoms. It’s a great way to help reduce the number of people developing or dying from bowel cancer, but it can’t pick up everything.

“So it’s still important to take part in the rest of the bowel screening programme and not ignore the home testing kits when they arrive.”

The government estimates the bowel scope test will take at least another three years before it will be offered to everyone eligible across England. This is in order to train specialist staff to carry out the tests. Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have not yet committed to introducing the test.

The research was funded by the Medical Research Council and National Institute for Health Research. About half of bowel cancers occur in the lower part of the bowel and the rectum – the area covered by the bowel scope test.

The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said: “This report is really encouraging – prevention and early diagnosis are key to improving outcomes, and this new screening test could help us save thousands more lives.

“Cancer survival is at its highest rate ever, but more must be done: we are investing £300 million a year by 2020 to increase diagnostic capacity for all cancers, so we can save more from this devastating disease.”

Concern over bowel cancer patients with symptoms year before diagnosis

A fifth of bowel cancer patients who received an emergency diagnosis in one year in England had characteristic symptoms the year before, suggesting their disease could have been caught earlier, researchers say.

With the majority of patients having seen a doctor in the 12 months before their diagnosis, whether emergency or non-emergency, the authors of the new study say multiple factors could be behind the finding.

“The sample [of patients] we have analysed come from more than 200 GP practices, so this suggests that it is not a problem of specific doctors, it suggests that it is a system-wide problem,” said Cristina Renzi, lead researcher of the study from University College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“Emergency presentations are associated with worse patient-reported outcomes and disruptions to hospital services,” she added. “Cancer survival after an emergency colorectal cancer diagnosis is also substantially lower.”

With the study also showing that more than half of bowel cancer patients who receive an emergency diagnosis had no record of relevant symptoms up to a month beforehand, Renzi believes more needs to be done to support GPs, while patients should be encouraged to discuss all symptoms of concern with their doctor.

Writing in the British Journal of Cancer, the researchers, from four British universities, described how they analysed GP records and cancer registration data from more than 1,600 patients over the age of 25 who had been diagnosed with either colon or rectal cancer between 2005 and 2006.

While Renzi admits that the situation might have changed since the data was collected, the proportion of emergency diagnoses made for rectal cancers, she said, has remained fairly constant over the last decade, while those for colon cancers has dropped slightly.

Of the 1,029 colon cancer patients, 35% were diagnosed in an emergency situation, such as A&E or an emergency GP referral, compared to 15% of the 577 with rectal cancer. Emergency diagnoses were more common among women, those aged 80 or over and, for rectal cancer, those with a low socio-economic status.

When researchers examined up to five years of medical history for the colorectal cancer patients, whether diagnosed in an emergency situation or not, they discovered that more than 95% had seen a doctor in the previous 12 months. “In both cases it seems that they have been to their doctor multiple times and increasingly so the year before diagnosis,” said Renzi.

Those diagnosed in non-emergency situations were more likely to have symptoms typical of bowel cancer, including “red flag” symptoms such as rectal bleeding, anaemia or a change in bowel habits. But, the authors report, 18% of colon cancer patients and 23% of rectal cancer patients diagnosed in emergency situations also showed at least one red flag symptom in the 12 months before their diagnosis.

That, the authors said, suggests that around 20% of colorectal cancer patients could have been diagnosed earlier. That they were not, says Renzi, could be down to a number of factors.

“It might be that the doctor has referred them to have a diagnostic test and maybe the cancer progressed more rapidly; it might be that the patient had to come back and they didn’t,” said Renzi. “For now, we haven’t been able to really understand what went wrong after they were seen with the typical red flag symptoms.”

With many of those given an emergency diagnosis showing no red flag symptoms or other relevant signs, such as weight loss, Renzi said it was important that patients talk to their GP about all symptoms they are experiencing, while doctors need access to specialists and diagnostic facilities.

“The GPs need more support to deal with patients who present with non-specific symptoms in order to be able to diagnose cancer earlier, even in those cases,” she said.