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Merits of sigmoidoscopy for bowel cancer screening

May 2010

A study in The Lancet has shown that a one-off sigmoidoscopy screening test between the ages of 55 and 64 years may reduce bowel (colorectal) cancer mortality by up to 43% in those screened and incidence by one third.

The results suggest a single examination with a flexible sigmoidoscope in people between 55 and 64 years may significantly reduce bowel cancer incidence and mortality. Other trials are underway in the US and Italy, which will demonstrate whether this result can be confirmed.

Reductions in bowel cancer incidence and mortality reported in the UK sigmoidoscopy study are similar to those achieved in trials in the UK and Denmark of the faecal occult blood test (FOBT), which is used in the Australian Government’s National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.

Participants in the UK sigmoidoscopy study underwent an examination of the lower colon and rectum using a flexible scope - about the width of a pencil.

For more information on the study click here.

It is important to note that the results of sigmoidoscopy are dependent on the skill of the operator. To introduce such a program across a whole population would take considerable time and require a significant investment to train sigmoidoscopists and put the service in place.

There is also a question about the number of Australians who would be willing to undergo this type of screening, compared with the non-invasive FOBT test.

Nonetheless, the results of the study (subject to results from other trials) indicate sigmoidoscopy merits further evaluation, particularly the potential to incorporate both sigmoidoscopy and FOBT into the national screening program.

Cancer Council advises all Australians who are eligible to participate in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, which offers one-off FOBT screening for people aged 50, 55 and 65 and is a proven means of screening for bowel cancer. Evidence shows the program should be extended as a test for all Australians aged 50 and over every two years, preventing 30 bowel cancer deaths each week.

Cancer Council calls on the Australian Government to add 60 and 70 year-olds to the program from the 2010-11 federal budget, to save more lives while we await the program’s full implementation for all Australians 50 and over.


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This page was last updated on: Friday, June 14, 2013