Screening for Bowel Cancer: Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)

My thoughts turned to topics recently in the news from George Alagiah and Dr. Mark Porter about early screening for bowel cancer.

Caught early, bowel cancer is one of the easiest cancers to treat, with cure rates that approach 100 per cent. However, caught late it is one of the most difficult types to treat, with five-year survival rates of only 10 per cent for advanced cases.

Source: www.cancerresearchuk.org

Because younger people don’t think it will happen to them they tend to ignore signs of trouble and don’t see their doctor until the disease is more advanced – making survival much less likely. However, 2,500 people aged under 50 will be diagnosed with bowel cancer this year.

So, the Government’s recent announcement that all of us will now get a Happy 50th Birthday faecal immunochemical test (FIT), this is good news. A similar Faecal Occult Blood Test (gFOBT) was sent to all people turning 6o years old. The FIT test is not hard to do – you just put a stick into a bit of your own poo and pop it into a container.

Image Source: HealthHub

All that seems nice and easy and a small inconvenience to potentially save your life.

In addition, my CCG has introduced a new Bowel Scope test which is being piloted in several other areas – this is them wishing you Happy 55th Birthday. This test is more invasive but having received my invitation and working for OCB I really cannot be one of the fewer than 50% of people who take up this invitation.

The bowel scope test requires you to attend a hospital appointment to have a very fine flexible tube with a camera inserted into your bottom to look at the first part (sigmoid) of your colon.

The NHS gives this advice about the test:

  • You may be asked to change into a hospital gown.
  • You lie down on a bed on your left side.
  • The doctor or nurse gently inserts the camera tube into your bottom.
  • Air is pumped down the tube to open up your bowel and make it easier to spot polyps.
  • The video from inside your bowel is shown on a screen – you can watch if you want.
  • Any polyps are usually removed at the same time and sent to a laboratory to check for cancer.
  • You’re awake during the test.

It’s usually painless, although some people find it uncomfortable. If you do have any pain, it usually only lasts a few moments.

So, I shall be heading towards an NHS hospital in 3 weeks’ time. I suggest that anyone reading this makes sure that they help themselves and our NHS:

  • Do your FIT test when invited at age 50
  • Attend your Bowel Scope if invited at age 55
  • Take up your repeat FIT/gFOBT tests thereafter

J.M