Age Scotland welcomes rise in bowel cancer screening as new tests simplify process

Age Scotland has welcomed a steep rise in bowel cancer screening rates, as new figures released today (AUGUST 6) show more older people than ever before are getting tested.

New simpler tests saw screening rates beat the NHS target  for the first time, according to ISD Scotland. Last year, 63.9 per cent of people aged 50 to 74 took part, up from 55.4 per cent the previous year. The target is 60 per cent.

But rates continue to lag behind in more deprived areas, with only around half of those eligible getting tested (51.7 per cent) compared to seven in 10 in affluent areas. (72.5 per cent). Men are also less likely than women to take the test.

Age Scotland warned that embarrassment is still causing needless deaths, with almost four in 10 people missing out on the life-saving test.

Bowel cancer is Scotland’s second biggest cancer killer, resulting in more than 1600 deaths per year. Early detection can increase survival rates for the disease to more than nine in 10, with screening saving hundreds of lives a year.

The areas with the highest uptake were the Borders, Orkney and Shetland, while Glasgow, Lanarkshire, and Ayrshire were still significantly below NHS Scotland’s 60 per cent target.

The new test, which involves just one sample and can be taken at home, was introduced in November 2017. Further new technology is under development to make diagnosis simpler and more accurate, including the Sonopill, led by researchers at Glasgow University.

Brian Sloan, Chief Executive of Age Scotland, said: “It’s great news that more people are taking this life-saving test, with simpler home tests making a big difference. But we need to do more to raise awareness and encourage everyone aged 50 to 74 to take part, especially men living in deprived areas.

“Bowel cancer is the second biggest killer in Scotland, and our risk increases with age. But too many older people are too embarrassed to take the test or speak to their doctor if they have concerns.

“I’d urge everyone aged 50 and over to overcome their unease and get screened, and encourage family members to do the same.

“We’re also pleased to see new diagnostic tools being developed to make the process simpler and more effective, with Scottish researchers leading the way. This will help more people get the prompt treatment they need.

“While not every case can be prevented, lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet and cutting down alcohol can help reduce our risk.”

Sandy Cochran, Professor of Ultrasound Materials and Systems at the University of Glasgow, and lead researcher on the Sonopill Programme, said: “It’s encouraging that screening rates are moving in the right direction but much still needs to be done.  Evidence shows that bowel cancer caught at its earliest stages can increase five-year survival rates to over 90 per cent.

“There is a lot of exciting work going on to remove barriers to testing and diagnosis. Our international team is developing a new Sonopill, to provide a precise, targeted alternative to colonoscopy that will be more comfortable for patients.  People simply need to swallow a tiny robotic capsule, which uses ultrasound to detect abnormalities in the colon.

“We hope that the Sonopill will soon be available to all patients as part of regular medical check-ups, catching serious diseases at an early stage and monitoring the health of everyone’s digestive system.”

All adults aged between 50 and 74 are invited to take the test every two years, while those who are older can choose to opt in.