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Addenbrooke’s becomes first hospital in England to restart bowel screening

Graphic that says: Road to Recovery - bowel screening resumes
The road to recovery - Covid-19 meant we had to pause some services

Our hospitals have become the first in England to restart Public Health England’s bowel cancer screening programme, after it was put on hold for Covid-19.

The programme offers everyone over the age of 60 the opportunity to be tested for bowel cancer by sending in a stool sample from home.

If tests reveal there to be blood in the sample, patients are invited in to have a colonoscopy to detect if there are problems in the bowel, such as cancer.

Early detection of such issues can drastically improve the chances of recovery.

However, like many services at the hospital, colonoscopies, were put on hold in March to allow the hospital to focus its staff and resources on dealing with patients with Covid-19 or those requiring more urgent care.

Edel McDermott, consultant gastroenterologist and clinical lead for bowel cancer screening Cambridge, who performs colonoscopies, said: “We are thrilled to be the first hospital in England to offer this service to patients again. 

“Patients who test positive have an approximately one in 10 chance of having bowel cancer, so we have really prioritised this service and are delighted to be able to start again.”

Normally colonoscopies are performed within two weeks of receiving a positive test, but as a result of Covid, some patients have had to wait three months to see if they are at risk of cancer.

One such patient was Dennis Barry, 71, from Lode in Cambridgeshire. Dennis was identified as needing to have a colonoscopy just before lockdown in March – but had to wait until June before the procedure could be carried out.

The colonoscopy revealed Dennis had pre-cancerous polyps - abnormal tissue growths - which needed to be removed.

He said: “When you hear the word 'cancer', you always think the worst. I don't care who the person is, you do worry about it.

"You have to just cope with it the best way you can and hope for the best. I'm not saying it's on your mind 24/7 - you forget about it halfway through the day and then in the evening you sit down maybe have a sandwich or watching the TV and all of a sudden it'll just come back to you 'oh dear, what if I do have cancer?'."

Mr Barry successfully had the polyps removed a week later and now says following the lockdown and his cancer scare he is back doing what he loves most - sea fishing.

Head and shoulder shot of Dennis Barry
Dennis Barry, patient

About two weeks ago I went to the beach with my wife to do a bit of fishing. It really chills you out, you forget about everything and concentrate on what you're doing.

Dennis Barry

The hospital has now cleared its backlog of colonoscopies and expects to start seeing patients who require further investigations following the reopening of the Bowel Cancer Service from early August. 

Anyone who is registered with a GP will receive the option to take part after their 60th birthday. Anyone else who is concerned about bowel cancer should contact their GP in the first instance.