Thousands of lives could be saved every year and the risk of developing bowel cancer could be cut by a third with a one-off screening test, according to a major research study.
There was a 43% cut in the death rate for bowel cancer among men and women aged between 55 and 64 who underwent an examination of the lower colon and rectum. The incidence of the disease fell by a third amongst those in the exercise.
A sigmoidoscopy procedure was carried out on the patients with a camera mounted on a thin, flexible tube inserted around a third of the way into the bowel. The findings of the research involved 170,432 men and women and were published online in The Lancet.
Most bowel cancers stem from polyps or symptomless growths in the rectum and colon, and where these were found they were removed in a safe and pain-free procedure, the researchers said.
Researchers said the test could save thousands of lives every year and spare tens of thousands of people the trauma and suffering of cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Bowel cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK and the second biggest cancer killer after lung cancer, claiming the lives of around 16,000 people a year.