Intended for healthcare professionals


Wendy Atkin: epidemiologist who made an enormous contribution to bowel cancer prevention

BMJ 2018; 363 doi: (Published 25 October 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;363:k4465
  1. Penny Warren
  1. London
  1. penny.warren{at}
Julian Nieman

In October 2010, despite an atmosphere of cuts and austerity, Prime Minister David Cameron pledged £60m to incorporate flexible sigmoidoscopy into the NHS bowel screening programme. This followed the results of the UK Flexible Sigmoidoscopy Screening (UKFSS) trial,1 published in the Lancet and described by Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, as “a breakthrough. It is extremely rare to see the results of a clinical trial which are quite as compelling as this.”

The large randomised controlled trial found that a single screening reduced colorectal cancer incidence by a third and cut mortality by 43%. It was estimated that, once screening was rolled out, it could prevent 3000 deaths and 5000 new cases every year.

Patients spared the disease should thank Wendy Atkin—a remarkable epidemiologist who established and guided the trial for decades.

Early years

Wendy Atkin (née Green) was born on 5 April 1947 and brought up in south London with her younger sister, Heather. Her father, David, was a pharmacist, and …

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