BowelScreen programme detects 521 cases of cancer

Uptake of free screening low with men more reluctant to take test than women

Cancer detection rate among males is twice as high as it is for females. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

The national BowelScreen programme has detected 521 cases of cancer in its first three years, while its latest statistics highlight a lack of uptake among eligible candidates – just 40 per cent of whom opted to take the test.

The rate was lower for men with just over one third of those approached agreeing to take part. The participation rate was higher for women with 44.1 per cent availing of the test compared to 36.4 per cent of men, who also had higher rates of the disease.

“Low uptake of screening is worrying given bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in this country,” said Prof Diarmuid O’Donoghue, clinical director of BowelScreen.

"We are particularly concerned about men, given that the cancer detection rate among males is twice as high as it is for females. It is so important that the men of Ireland take control of their health and do the test."


"It is disappointing that more people haven't availed of the free screening programme but that's something we can work on," Donal Buggy head of services and advocacy with the Irish Cancer Society said after the statistics were published on Tuesday.

“I’m sure the positive results from the first round of BowelScreen will encourage many more people to get involved.”

Cancer deaths

The programme was launched by the Health Service Executive’s National Screening Service in 2012, offering free screening to men and women aged between 55 and 74. Bowel disease accounts for the second highest level of cancer deaths in Ireland. The round was carried out over about three years between 2012 and 2015, targeting those aged 60-69.

Coinciding with Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, the statistics showed that of 488,628 eligible people invited to participate, 196,238 were screened with 521 cancers detected. This translated to a screening uptake rate of 40.2 per cent and a cancer detection rate of 2.65 per 1,000 people screened.

However, almost 13,000 adenomas (abnormal tissue growths) that can become cancerous at a later stage, were also removed during the first round.

Crucially, more than 71 per cent of all cancers detected were at early stage one or two, making them easier to treat.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times