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Bowel test pilot to enhance early detection of cancer

Published: 3 Dec 2015 09:00

New test available at GP practices throughout NHS Tayside.

A pilot scheme to enhance the detection of bowel cancer has been launched today by Health Secretary Shona Robison in NHS Tayside.

The pilot, funded through the Scottish Government's £39 million Detect Cancer Early programme will make a new type of test available to patients who present at their GP practice with bowel symptoms and who may have underlying bowel cancer or serious bowel disease.

Until now, if someone presents with symptoms they would be sent for a colonoscopy – an internal diagnostic procedure involving a miniature camera – which for the majority will prove normal.

However, researchers in Ninewells Hospital and the University of Dundee completed a ground-breaking study using a Quantitative FIT (qFIT) test in over 1000 patients and found that it could accurately predict which patients were extremely unlikely to have serious bowel disease.

The new 'qFIT' test uses a faeces sample to test for blood content which can be a sign of cancer or bowel disease. If blood is undetectable, this could rule out the need for a colonoscopy for many patients and speed the investigation of those that do.

The new test will be available at all GP practices in NHS Tayside during the pilot and will help speed up the diagnosis of bowel cancer and serious bowel disease as well as reduce unnecessary, and often invasive further testing.

Launching the pilot at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, Health Secretary Shona Robison said:

"I am delighted that through our Detect Cancer Early programme, NHS Tayside has been able to introduce this new bowel test which will be piloted until June 2016.

"The NHS in Scotland is committed to ensuring swift access to diagnostic testing and treatment for all patients in Scotland and we will watch this pilot with interest.

"Cancer services in Scotland have improved significantly over the past decade and increasing numbers of people are surviving cancer due to early detection and advances in medical treatment.

"Bowel cancer is Scotland's third most common cancer, but if we find it early enough there's more than a 90 per cent chance of successful treatment. In fact, the five-year survival rate for bowel cancer has increased by 19.4 per cent in men and 17.9 per cent in women between 1987-91 and 2007-11, but we know more still needs to be done.

"This is why pilot schemes such as this one in NHS Tayside are so vital.

"It is also crucial that those aged 50 to 74 continue to return their home bowel screening kit when they receive it through the post. People who receive their bowel screening kit may be put off by the process, but the reality is that more people than ever in Scotland are completing the test and returning it, so they won't be alone. This means more people have a better chance of bowel cancer being detected early, when the chances of survival, and even cure, are much higher."

Craig Mowat, Consultant Gastroenterologist at NHS Tayside, is leading the pilot of the qFIT test.

Dr Mowat said:

"I welcome the launch of this pilot which comes after a ground-breaking research study, funded by the DCE programme, that we recently published in the medical journal GUT.

"In Tayside, over 4000 patients per year are referred for investigation of bowel symptoms and often automatically have a colonoscopy - but only a small percent prove to have serious disease. Bowel symptoms often settle spontaneously, or can be explained by less serious causes such as haemorrhoids and irritable bowel syndrome, so if a patient takes the FIT test the GP can quickly determine who needs further investigations and who does not.

"The launch of this test means that patients who are worried that their bowel symptoms may be due to serious disease such as cancer can be offered this quick and effective test during a routine GP appointment.

"Our research suggests the FIT test should help us target colonoscopy investigations to those that need it and enhance the rapid diagnosis of those with cancer or serious bowel disease. In addition it may help avoid an unnecessary colonoscopy in as many as 40 per cent of patients. "

Notes to editors

NHS Tayside's qFIT test pilot will run June 2016, and will cost £35,000.

For more information on the Scottish Government's Detect Cancer Early programme visit: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Health/Services/Cancer/Detect-Cancer-Early

For more information of the Scottish Government's new 'wee c' initiative, which aims to bring cancer down to size, visit: http://www.theweec.org/

For more information on the published research paper, visit: http://discovery.dundee.ac.uk/portal/files/7274996/Gut_2015_Mowat_gutjnl_2015_309579.pdf