Guernsey Press

UK experts give updates on latest in cancer screening

Expanding bowel cancer screening and introducing ‘at home’ smear tests were a couple of the ideas laid out by UK experts at cancer symposium on Saturday.

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Left to right, Dr Matejka Rebolj, senior epidemiologist from Queen Mary University in London, Sara Gould, from Bowel Cancer Guernsey, Di Matthews, Public Health’s strategic screening lead, Dr Jo Le Noury, from Bright Tights, medical student and speaker Kate Connolly and Dr Caroline Chapman, from the UK Bowel Screening Programme. (Picture by Juliet Pouteaux, 33161142)

It was explained that both ideas, like most screenings, have benefits and disadvantages.

Charities Bright Tights, Bowel Cancer Guernsey and Pink Ladies sponsored a range speakers, who presented to local doctors and clinicians about the latest advances at the Peninsula Hotel on Saturday.

Dr Caroline Chapman, from the UK Bowel Screening Programme, spoke about the Faecal Immuno Chemical Test used in bowel screening and the latest advances in the UK programme, including the age extension.

People in Guernsey between 60 to 70 are invited for bowel cancer screening every two years.

In the UK the test is offered every two years to those aged 60 to 74. But by next year it is hoped this will be extended to 50 to 74.

Dr Chapman said deciding to extend screening needed to be thought about carefully.

‘It has to have benefits that outweigh the risks,’ she said.

‘Most early bowel cancer does not have symptoms. And once you have symptoms, it can be more difficult to treat.’

She said that younger people were being diagnosed with bowel cancer, but it was hard to know how much impact widening the screening age range would have.

Bowel Cancer Guernsey chairwoman Anne Brouard said it was interesting to learn about the different screenings and discuss the possibility of extending screening.

Dr Matejka Rebolj, senior epidemiologist at Queen Mary University in London, is researching cervical screening and has been looking at the benefits of self-sampling. In Guernsey about two thirds of people invited to cervical screening take up the offer – similar to the UK.

Dr Rebolj said many people did not go for screenings out of embarrassment or because they felt they did not have the time. But if an ‘at home’ test was available, more people might get tested.

However there were disadvantages.

‘The at home test is good test, but it is not as good as the clinical test,’ she said.

However an at home test would be better than people not getting screened at all.

Another consideration was the importance of making sure that tests would still be available at GPs, if an at home test was introduced.

‘We need to make sure they maintain the ability to take high-quality samples,’ she said.

‘It’s a delicate balance.’

Cervical cancer is caused by persistent infection with the human papillomavirus HPV.

HPV vaccines need to be given before a person is exposed to HPV. The vaccine has been offered, free of charge, to girls in Guernsey since 2008. There are 13 HPV genotypes which are linked to cervical cancer. That initial roll-out targeted two of the 13, which were linked to 70% of cervical cancers.

In more recent years it has been expanded to boys and to include more genotypes, helping to protect from 90% of cancers. However there are still unvaccinated people, and Dr Rebolj said this meant testing was still very important.

Professor Anne Mackie was unable to attend in person to talk about how the risks and benefits of screening are weighed up, but appeared on video.

Public health strategic screening lead Di Mathews said it had been an interesting day, which could not have happened without the charities sponsoring the speakers.

She added that the team was constantly monitoring changes in testing and research into the benefits and risks.

‘We need to ensure the changes we make improve the outcomes for people – that is the most important thing,’ she said.

With bowel cancer testing, the local programme had only recently restarted, and Mrs Mathews said it needed to be allowed to run again for a while before any changes were considered.


The island has three screening programmes.

Breast screening detects abnormalities in the breast tissue that are too small to see or feel. It is offered to all women aged 50 to 75, who are invited every two years free of charge.

Those over 75 can still be screened for free every two years.

Bowel screening aims to detect polyps or bowel cancer at an early stage, when treatment is more likely to be effective.

Tests are offered free to all residents aged between 60 and 70 years old. People aged over 70 can also request a screening.

Free cervical screening has been offered for those aged between 25 and 65 since 2019.

The cervical screening programme is for those aged 25-49 every three years, and aged 50-65 every five years.

The test is highly effective in detecting HPV in the cervix and ensures early abnormalities or early signs of cervical cancer are identified and treated earlier.

n In the UK, breast cancer is most common cancer, followed by prostate, lung and bowel.