Reducing the risk of developing bowel cancer may be possible through the use of a 5-minute screening test, according to a study published in the Lancet.

According to background information provided in the press release announcing the findings, bowel cancer accounts for more than 1 million cancer cases worldwide and 600,000 deaths each year. In addition, around 9 in 10 cases of bowel cancer occur in people 55 years or older.

The study, led by researchers from Imperial College London, involved 170,432 people, of whom 40,674 underwent flexible sigmoidoscopy screening with the Flexi-Scope. The results revealed that a single flexible sigmoidoscopy examination in men and women 55 to 64 years old reduced the incidence of bowel cancer by one-third, compared to a control group who had usual care. Moreover, screening with flexible sigmoidoscopy was particularly effective in the lower bowel, where it cut the incidence of the disease by 50%.

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“Our study shows for the first time that we could dramatically reduce the incidence of bowel cancer, and the number of people dying from the disease, by using this one-off test,” said Wendy Atkin, professor from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College, London. “No other bowel cancer screening technique has ever been shown to prevent the disease. Our results suggest that screening with Flexi-Scope could save thousands of lives.”

The authors explained that the Flexi-Scope test works by detecting and removing growths on the bowel wall before they become cancerous. The procedure, which is currently available in the UK for symptomatic patients through a referral from a GP or specialist, confers long-lasting protection.

The study’s researchers reported added benefits of the Flexi-Scope, indicating that the test could also reduce costs associated with treating people with bowel cancer.

“Cancer Research UK is calling on the next Government to add the test to the existing national bowel screening programme as one of its first priorities,” Said Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive. “Such a programme, backed by all UK governments, would save thousands of lives and spare tens of thousands of families the anxiety and suffering associated with a cancer diagnosis, whilst also saving the NHS money.”