Study backs Finland’s colon cancer screening

LONDON (Reuters) - A national screening program in Finland has detected about 40 percent of colon cancers early, showing that such tests can make a difference, Finnish researchers reported on Friday.

Researchers studied 106,000 men and women aged between 60 and 64 across Finland to examine the effectiveness of a colon cancer screening program started in 2004 in which fecal samples are analyzed for blood.

Blood traces can be an indicator of cancer.

Colorectal, or colon and rectal, cancer is the second most fatal form of cancer in Europe and the United States.

The team found that the test identified four out of ten colon cancers, enough to say the program was successful.

“The sensitivity of the Finnish screening program for colorectal cancer at the first round was adequate even if relatively low,” the researchers wrote in the British Medical Journal.

“Program sensitivity in Finland was sufficient to justify continuation of the program.”

The findings suggest that similar programs introduced in about 50 countries may be working.

In the United States, men are advised to begin regular colonoscopies at the age of 50. But the procedure, in which a flexible lit tube is passed through the bowel, can be costly, uncomfortable and harmful for a patient.

National health systems are beginning to adopt a simpler test in which doctors analyze a fecal sample for blood.

Previous studies looked chiefly at how well the tests worked in clinical trials rather than investigating a screening system already up and running, said Nea Malila of the Finnish Cancer Registry, who led the study.

“This seems to be working in a public health setting as well as it did in trials,” she said in a telephone interview.

(Reporting by Michael Kahn; Editing by Will Dunham and Catherine Bosley)

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