Simple check that could save your life

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A weekly column by Dr Miles Langdon of South Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group, addressing topical

health issues

If you are aged 60 or over, you will receive an invitation every two years to take part in the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme.

It is important that you accept the invitation as the survival rate is more than 90 per cent when bowel cancer is detected at the earliest stage.

The programme targets people aged 60 or over because the risk of developing bowel cancer increases with age.

In fact, eight out ten people diagnosed with bowel cancer are over 60.

Screening aims to detect bowel cancer at an early stage, in people with no symptoms, when treatment is more likely to be effective.

Screening can also detect polyps. These are not cancers but may develop into cancers over time. They can easily be removed, reducing the risk of bowel cancer developing.

The screening test detects tiny amounts of blood in your bowel motions. It is called the Faecal Occult Blood test.

Polyps and bowel cancers sometimes bleed which is why the test screens for blood in your bowel motions. You carry out the test in the privacy of your own home.

The screening kit provides a simple way for you to collect small samples of your bowel motions.

You wipe the samples on a special card which you then send in a hygienically sealed Freepost envelope to a laboratory for testing.

The test does not diagnose bowel cancer but the results will tell you whether you need a colonoscopy (camera examination of the bowel).

You should receive a results letter from the laboratory within two weeks of sending in your sample.

Around 94 out of 100 people will receive a normal result which means that blood was not found in their sample. About four in every 100 people will receive an unclear result which means they should repeat the test.

An unclear result means there was a slight suggestion of blood in the sample. This could have been caused by conditions such as piles or stomach ulcers.

Around two in every 100 people will have an abnormal result which means that blood may have been found in the sample.

This is not a diagnosis of cancer but it does mean that you will be offered a colonoscopy.

The main treatment for bowel cancer is surgery although, in some cases, chemotherapy or radiotherapy may be offered.

For more details on the screening, visit