Screening War on 2 Cancers; FAMILY HEALTH

By Palmer, Jill | The Mirror (London, England), May 8, 1998 | Go to article overview

Screening War on 2 Cancers; FAMILY HEALTH


Palmer, Jill, The Mirror (London, England)


THOUSANDS of women in Britain today owe their lives to cancer screening. The early detection it provides has saved thousands more from major surgery.

Now the Government is considering adding two more national screening programmes to the already successful ones for breast and cervical cancer.

Yesterday, Public Health Minister Tessa Jowell announced a study into the potential benefits of screening young women for chlamydia, a common sexually-transmitted disease which can leave women infertile.

And in July, the UK National Screening Committee will report on the possibility of routine screening for bowel cancer.

"Chlamydia is not a killer, but lots of women have it and often don't know that they do," Ms Jowell said. "As well as leaving women sterile, it probably accounts for nearly half of all ectopic pregnancies, (when the baby develops outside the womb).

"Specialist clinics are reporting nearly 40,000 new cases every year. That is why I have decided to fund pilot projects with a view to starting a national screening programme."

Shockingly, almost seven in ten people with chlamydia are girls in their teens and twenties - and incidence in this age group is rising dramatically.

The disease is easily treatable with antibiotics - but only when victims become aware they are infected.

Infertility results in 30 per cent of cases and the risk of ectopic pregnancy jumps by 40 per cent.

Pilot screening will involve testing all women who attend family planning clinics or GP surgeries for contraception, and those going for their first cervical smear.

Bowel cancer screening, if given the go-ahead, will target men and women aged between 50 and 69. The method has yet to be determined.

The disease affects more than 30,000 people a year in Britain and kills around 18,000 - a cancer death toll second only to lung cancer.

Once again, early detection can lead to successful treatment, extending and saving sufferers' lives. Yet most people are ignorant of the possible warning signs and by the time they are diagnosed 30 per cent of victims have an advanced form of the disease.

Sufferer Monica Read was alerted to her symptoms because the disease had killed her mother 24 years previously. Early diagnosis, in 1991, saved her life.

Monica, 53, a payroll manager and mum of two from Wimbledon, south-west London, says: "Though bowel cancer is always linked to diet, I have always eaten plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

"When I first went to my GP, she thought my symptoms could have been caused by eating too much fibre. I had put on a stone in weight and was on a high fibre diet.

"But the terrible flatulence and frequency in going to the toilet continued, and then I noticed blood and mucus on the toilet paper."

The GP reacted immediately and within days Monica was in hospital undergoing tests. They confirmed a malignant tumour in her bowel.

Monica had surgery to remove the cancer, 18 inches of her intestine, and surrounding lymph glands. She then endured chemotherapy every day for nearly a year. She has now been clear of the disease for five years.

"People are embarrassed about talking about their bowels and don't always recognise the symptoms," says Monica. …

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