Women are risking their lives by not taking part in bowel screening tests according to new research. 

A research team led by Professor Colin McCowan at the University of St Andrews and Dr Katie Robb from the University of Glasgow found that while 81% of women took part in cervical cancer screening and 73% in breast cancer screening only 60% of women took part in bowel screening.

According to Bowel Cancer UK bowel cancer is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early.

In a study published in the British Journal of Cancer the team analysed anonymised health records for more than 430,000 women in the Glasgow area for each of the three screening programmes to examine which women did and did not take part in. In particular they focussed on the 68,324 women who were eligible to take part in all three programmes.

Younger women less likely to take part in bowel screening

They found that just over half of women took part in all three programmes but also that seven out of every hundred did not do any. Only 60% of women took part in bowel screening compared to 73% who did breast and 81% who did cervical.

Younger women, those from more deprived areas and those with other conditions were less likely to take part in any of the screening programmes. Women who took part in the breast or cervical screening programmes were also more likely to take part in the bowel screening.

Professor McCowan, Professor of Health Data Science at St Andrews, said: “This is the first study we know of that has looked at how individual women participate across all three available screening programmes. This research shows that there is still work to do to encourage women to take part in all three programmes but especially bowel screening.

“Exploring the characteristics of the groups of women least likely to take part in screening can help inform us when developing new ways to encourage participation.”

Bowel cancer is Scotland’s second biggest cancer killer

This particular research looked at the number of women who completed screening whilst the old test (gFOBT) was in place. However, since the new screening test, the Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) was introduced in 2017, the number of people taking part has risen by nearly 10%

Claire Donaghy, Head of Scotland, Bowel Cancer UK said: “This study, which uses data from before the new screening test was introduced confirms what we already know, that uptake for the previous test was low. Around half of people who were sent the test were not taking it. The good news is that since the introduction of the new screening test, the Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT), in November 2017, we have seen the number of people taking part rise by nearly 10%, with the greatest increase among people living in deprived areas.

“Taking part in bowel screening is one of the best ways to diagnose the disease early. It can detect the disease at an early stage when treatment is more successful. Bowel cancer is Scotland’s second biggest cancer killer, however it shouldn’t be. Nearly everyone survives if diagnosed at the earliest stage but this drops significantly as the disease develops. Quite simply, screening saves lives.”