A Glynn man has urged everyone invited to take part in bowel cancer screening to make sure they take up the offer.
Alaster Smyth told how, despite having no symptoms, he was diagnosed with the disease after performing a home test.
The 68-year-old told of his experience at the launch of a new public awareness campaign aimed at encouraging participation in the Northern Ireland bowel cancer screening programme, which the Public Health Agency (PHA) estimates could save around 60 lives each year.
Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in Northern Ireland and claims the lives of 400 local people each year, but when detected at a very early stage there is a 90 per cent successful treatment rate.
All men and women aged 60-69 year are currently invited for screening every two years and from April 2012 this will be extended to everyone aged 60-71 years.
Health Minister Edwin Poots joined Dr Janet Little, assistant director of Service Development and Screening, PHA, at the launch to encourage all eligible men and women to take the Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT).
Health Minister Edwin Poots said: “Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in Northern Ireland and this regional screening programme has the potential to reduce deaths from bowel cancer by 15 per cent.
“This is the third cancer screening programme to be introduced in Northern Ireland following breast and cervical screening, and it is the first programme to include men. It is important for people to encourage their loved ones to take this life saving test every two years when invited.”
Dr Little said: “Bowel cancer screening, which is now available across Northern Ireland, will save approximately 60 lives here each year. The screening programme uses a home test kit and is aimed at people who do not have any symptoms. The test is very simple to do and can be completed within the privacy of your own home.
“Test kits will be sent out to the address which your GP has for you. It is therefore important that your GP has your most up-to-date address or you may miss the chance to take part in the screening programme.
“Each year in Northern Ireland 1,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer* and there are over 400 deaths but the good news is that the earlier the cancer is detected the chances of successful treatment improve significantly.”
The screening kit is used to detect traces of blood in the bowel motion, which if found can lead to further tests. Most people who are tested will have no blood in their bowel motions and will be invited to repeat the screening test two years later. Only 10 people in every 500 who complete the test kit will have traces of blood in their bowel motion and only one of these will have bowel cancer.
Mr Smyth, who spoke at the launch following surgery for bowel cancer in 2011, urges people to take the test: “It saved my life. I had no symptoms at all and felt normal and extremely well doing a physically demanding job and yet results showed I had bowel cancer. It was such a shock but thankfully it was caught in the early stages and once I had my surgery I did not need a colostomy bag or any further treatment.
“When the test arrived through the letterbox I was about to put it in the bin but my wife forced me to do it - I’m glad she did. I feel very lucky that my cancer was detected because I did this simple test. I would encourage everyone to take the test when it come through the post as it could save your life – it saved mine.”
Anyone who has received the test kit and has questions about how to use it please call the freephone helpline number 0800 015 2514.
n For further information on the Northern Ireland bowel cancer screening programme visit www.publichealth.hscni.net or www.cancerscreening.hscni.net