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Consultant Laparoscopic Colorectal and General Surgeon

Is flexible sigmoidoscopy used for bowel screening?

Not yet but it will be soon. As of autumn 2013, six centres in the UK are running a pilot for bowel screening using flexible sigmoidoscopy. Adding flexible sigmoidoscopy at the age of 55 to the National Bowel Screening Programme should help detect more cases of bowel cancer early.

The NHS bowel scope screening pilot started in March 2013 and has been set up in six areas of England:

  • Guildford in Surrey
  • West Kent and Medway
  • Norwich
  • Queen Elizabeth and South Tyneside
  • Wolverhampton
  • London (St Marks)

If you live in these areas and you are around 55 years old, you may receive an invitation to have a flexible sigmoidoscopy.

Mr Jonathan Wilson, Colorectal SurgeonA lot of research has been done to establish ways to detect bowel cancer that are affordable in the current economic climate. There will be a lot of people tested whose results come back completely normal, or who have problems that are not cancer. It’s the few people whose cancer is picked up early that benefit: screening does certainly save lives.

Adding flexible sigmoidoscopy to faecal occult blood testing for people over 55 is a major step forward in this country and when the combination is fully rolled out to all regions, it is likely to continue to chip away at the death rate from colon cancer, which is still the second most common cause of cancer death, claiming 16,000 lives each year.

What is the NHS bowel screening programme?

This is a national screening programme now running all over the country to detect early signs of bowel cancer:

  • People aged between 60 and 69 (this will soon be extended up to age 74) are contacted to let them know they are eligible for screening.
  • They are then sent a kit to test if their faeces contain any blood.
  • The screening kit, known as the Faecal Occult Blood (FOB) test, is used at home. The small faecal samples are collected on cards that are sealed and posted to be tested in the lab.
  • The results come through in two weeks. If the test is normal, there is nothing to worry about but it’s important to carry on doing the test every two years.
  • If there is a problem, you may need to repeat the test and you may then need a colonoscopy.
  • A pilot is currently running to see if more lives can be saved by having a flexible sigmoidoscopy at the age of 55 years. If it does, flexible sigmoidoscopy could be added to the NHS bowel screening programme in the future.

Mr Jonathan Wilson, Colorectal Surgeon

If you are sent an invitation to have bowel cancer screening, do take it up. One of the earliest signs of bowel cancer is blood in poo. If this is detected earlier it can mean an early diagnosis. The earlier the better as treatments are much more effective when performed on small tumours that haven’t yet spread.