A simple blood test that could save lives by detecting signs of bowel cancer at its earliest is being trialled as a possible new national screening tool by a consultant surgeon working for University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation.
Colorectal surgeon Mr Georgios Sgourakis, who is based at Furness General Hospital but also sees patients at Westmorland General Hospital, has been given £28,163 by charity Rosemere Cancer Foundation to fund his trial, which will run until next spring and will involve collaborating with the Biomedical and Life Sciences Department at Lancaster University, which will undertake measurements and statistical analysis of its results, and colleagues at the Royal Preston Hospital and Rosemere Cancer Centre to find local trial recruits.
Bowel cancer is the UK’s third most common cancer with about one in 20 people getting it in their life time. Currently, a national screening programme invites men and women aged over 60 years to provide a stool sample for testing every two years up to the age of 74. It is screened for traces of blood invisible to the eye that could indicate polyps (adenomas, which are benign tumours but which carry a risk of becoming cancerous) and bowel cancer.
If blood is found, a colonoscopy is undertaken to determine its cause. A colonoscopy involves inserting a thin, flexible tube with a camera on the end into the bowel so doctors can examine the bowel wall.
Mr Sgourakis explained: “Colonoscopy is an outstanding tool for diagnosing potentially curable bowel cancer. It is superior to stool testing. However, it is an invasive procedure that is costly to the NHS and too many patients are undergoing it unnecessarily as its only pick up around 4 per cent of all early bowel cancers detected nationally.
“The aim of this trial is therefore to determine whether a new blood test that is looking for markers to indicate both polyps and bowel cancer at its very earliest can achieve a higher diagnostic performance than our current screening regime.”
Mr Sgourakis added: “Should this study prove to be successful, it will impose new standards in terms of screening with the blood test either as a stand-alone tool or complementary to what already exists.
“Detection of cancerous adenomas at a very early stage may also prevent their development to invasive cancer and their removal during a colonoscopy instead of an operation will be the only measure needed to return a patient to full health. Additional benefits would be that more cancers will be detected at very early stages, reducing the need for chemo-radiotherapy to make a significant positive impact on patients’ survival and quality of life.”
Rosemere Cancer Foundation works to bring world class cancer treatments and services to cancer patients from throughout Lancashire and South Cumbria being treated at Rosemere Cancer Centre, the region’s specialist cancer treatment centre, and at another eight local hospital cancer units.
The charity funds cutting edge equipment, research, training and other cancer services and therapies that the NHS is unable to afford. For further information on its work, including how to make a donation, visit www.rosemere.org.uk