According to a report published in the Journal of Medical Screening, more than half of people invited to take bowel cancer screening tests don’t take up the opportunity.
Studies have shown that screening could reduce the number of cases by up to 33 per cent and deaths by up to 43 per cent.
Over 16,000 people die of bowel cancer every year, making it the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK. In 95 per cent of cases it affects people aged 50 and over.
Dr Christian von Wagner, the study’s lead researcher, is worried by the difference in attendance rates between social groups.
‘These are early days for the new bowel scope programme — there hasn’t been a publicity campaign about it yet, and bowel screening is generally not as familiar to people as breast-screening mammograms or cervical-screening smear tests.
‘With that in mind, we were encouraged by the level of uptake in the pilot areas for a fairly new and invasive test, and we were surprised that more men were willing to have the test than women. What we found worrying was that people living in poorer areas seem less likely to take advantage of this screening.
‘There are lots of reasons why people, wherever they live, might not have the test, and these can include practical barriers such as embarrassment about the procedure or problems taking time off work to keep the appointment. We’re doing more research to uncover these reasons and see what can be done to encourage as many eligible people as possible to take part.’
The researchers looked more closely at the details of the 21,000 people in six pilot areas of England who were offered an appointment. They found only one third of people in the most deprived areas attended the appointment, compared to over half in the most affluent.
Similar differences in levels of attendance were observed in areas with a larger ethnic minority population.
The screening programme is currently being introduced in England and will be fully implemented by 2018.
It involves a specially trained nurse inserting a thin tube through the anus into the lower part of the large bowel. A camera attached to the tube is then used to look for polyps.