Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bowel Cancer Screening

Down to Cardiff again today. Bit of a flying visit. Wales Cancer Conference in Cardiff City Hall. Another day, another panel discussion! - this time with Cath Lindley, General Manager of Macmillan Cancer Support, Lib Dem AM, Jenny Randerson, Plaid Cymru AM, Helen Mary Jones (she gets everywhere) and me, representing the Conservatives. BBC's Hywel Griffiths chaired. Seemed a very knowledgeable audience. Have to admit that they made me feel a bit inadequate.

But I do know a bit about Colorectal Cancer, or Bowel Cancer, as it is commonly known. There was a question about screening, so I said what I thought about the issue. In my opinion, the lack of urgency in putting in place a comprehensive Bowel Cancer screening programme is a disgrace. Those going down with this form of cancer will often make a full recovery, albeit after some fairly radical surgery - but only if the tumour is discovered at a sufficiently early stage. The evidence tells us that screening identifies a great many tumours, and also that a much higher percentage of them than those which are discovered as a result of obvious symptoms are at Duke's Stage One - which means that it remains contained within the bowel 'wall', and the chance of recovery is comparatively high. A screening programme would save a great many lives. If the same number of people died in any form of accident there would be an outcry, and Government would take action to stop it.

The reason that the Government is so slow putting in place the screening programme is that the 'resources' do not exist to deal with the extra cases that would be found. In other words, the effect of Government policy is that tumours of the bowel will develop to a stage where they are much more likely to lead to debilitating chemotherapy and an early death. Shocking when its put like that is it not? Now I'm not suggesting that Government Ministers decide that they actually want this to happen (which Helen Mary seemed to imply I was suggesting). Of course they don't, and I was not suggesting it - but it is the consequential impact of not implementing a screening programme.

I know that there is a problem of capacity to deal with the extra numbers. For example, there are not enough colonoscopists (if that's the correct word), and not enough being trained - and they've got to be trained. Its no good employing some bloke who uses the camera like a draining rod, leading to colon damage. But we've known about this capacity problem for a long time. Its time it was fixed. Anyway, I had a chance to ride one of my hobby horses this morning, and another ride now. I feel a bit like the fellow walking down the street when a concrete block fell from a high building and missed him by a whisker - who then tries to stop anymore concrete blocks from falling. Its a case of "What do we want?" We want a screening programme." "When do we want it?" "We want it now".

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