A PIONEERING bowel cancer screening test that could save thousands of lives is being launched in the borough.
South Tyneside District Hospital is the first in the country to offer the new test, which could provide a major medical breakthrough.
Invitations were sent out in March to men and women aged 55, asking them to attend a ‘Bowelscope’ screening.
They are being offered a flexible sigmoidoscopy – which involves using a small tube to look at the inside of the lower bowel – and the first procedures are being carried out this week.
The aim is to find any small growths, called polyps, some of which may develop into bowel cancer if left untreated. Removing them reduces the likelihood of getting bowel cancer.
Professor Colin Rees, consultant gastroenterolgist at South Tyneside District Hospital, and one of the UK’s leading experts in bowel cancer screening research, said: “We are delighted to be at the forefront of such an exciting development, which has the potential to save many lives.”
South Tyneside District Hospital works with Sunderland Royal Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, Gateshead, to deliver bowel cancer screening.
The other two hospitals will begin the screening later this year.
The test is an addition to the existing bowel cancer screening programme, which began in 2006 and offers screening every two years to 60 to 74-year-olds by testing stool samples.
Lorraine Lambert, chief executive of South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The innovative work of Professor Rees and his team around bowel cancer is already recognised nationally and internationally, and it is tremendous that people in South Tyneside are being given this opportunity to be part of such a trailblazing initiative.”
The South of Tyne Bowel Cancer Screening Centre is the first of six pilot sites throughout the country to implement the Bowelscope screening.
Using a fine, flexible tube, with a light and a very small camera on the end to examine the bowel, images can be seen by the operator on a monitor, small polyps can be removed via the scope, and biopsies can be taken from suspicious areas of the bowel wall.
Prof Rees said: “It usually takes about five to 15 minutes, and is relatively safe for all patients.
“It is very important, however, that if people develop symptoms, they do not wait for their invitation to send a stool sample, or to have a flexible sigmoidoscopy.
“If they think they have any serious bowel symptoms they should see their GP.”