Screening most effective in early bowel cancer detection

BOWEL cancer is more likely to be detected early by screening than with GP referral or as an emergency presentation, according to a new study published by Cancer Research UK and Public Health England.

More than one-third (37 per cent) of cases picked up by bowel screening were caught at Stage 1 with eight per cent at Stage 4. This compares to 22 per cent of diagnoses being Stage 4 after referrals from GPs (either routine or urgent) and 40 per cent at Stage 4 on emergency presentation.

The full study considered data from 574,500 cases diagnosed in 2012 and 2013, including bladder, breast, bowel (colorectal), kidney, lung, melanoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, ovarian, prostate and uterine cancers.

Screening picked up the highest proportion of early stage cancers – 63 per cent at Stage 1 versus three per cent at Stage 4. Just over a third (34 per cent) of cases diagnosed following a GP referral were Stage 1 compared to just over a fifth (22 per cent) at Stage 4. More than half (58 per cent) of all cancers diagnosed as an emergency were diagnosed at Stage 4 compared to around a tenth (11 per cent) at Stage 1.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis, said: "For the first time we’re able to see specifically how advanced or how early cancers are when they are diagnosed via different routes within the health system.

"Early diagnosis means better survival and late diagnosis is bad news for patients, so we need to learn how to avoid it. This new information really helps us understand the best ways to diagnose cancer and where the health service should target resources."