Intended for healthcare professionals


Hanging in the balance

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 16 February 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:384

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  1. Rebecca Coombes
  1. London

    Could the UK's long awaited screening programme for bowel cancer become a victim of the NHS's financial crisis? Rebecca Coombes reports

    Until last Christmas everything seemed to be going well for those involved in the field of bowel cancer. Funding for a national screening programme for the condition, the second most common cause of death from cancer in the United Kingdom, had been agreed back in October 2004. The £34m ($60m; €50m) initiative, the first of its kind in Europe, is due to be rolled out in April to everyone in England aged between 60 and 69 years old.

    But experts have become anxious that, at the 11th hour, the programme could be a victim of the current spending crisis in the NHS. Although the Department of Health says it is committed to the roll-out, no assurance has been given that the agreed funding will be protected.

    Bowel cancer kills about 16 000 people a year in the UK. The high mortality is attributed to late detection of the disease. Only 8-10% of the cancers are currently caught at an early stage, at which point survival is as high as 90%. Studies show that the screening programme could push early detection up to 27% of all cases.

    The National Screening Committee estimates that the programme could save the lives of around 1200 people a year in England alone, which represents a reduction of about 9% in the 13 000 annual …

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