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Algorithm could improve early detection of bowel cancer

22 September 2017 09:06

Someone in Britain is diagnosed with bowel cancer every 15 minutes

Someone in Britain is diagnosed with bowel cancer every 15 minutes

A new computer code that can be applied to GP surgery data could be the answer to identifying those most at risk of developing bowel cancer.

The algorithm uses patient medical records to analyse blood test results, blood test markers and demographic information, and has been hailed as a way to potentially save thousands of lives through early detection.

Dr Matthew Hallsworth from the NIHR, added: "Professor Patnick has been able to demonstrate that by using this data analysis technique on test results that are already in a patient's medical record, there is a real opportunity to improve our ability to assess the risk of colorectal cancer."

Bowel cancer is the 4th most common cancer in the UK, behind breast, prostate and lung cancers. Around 41,000 Brits are diagnosed with the disease each year - that's someone every 15 minutes.

Those diagnosed with bowel cancer can look to obtain healthcare cover for overseas trips by taking out medical travel insurance.

Accurate assessments of risk

Experts who have tested the effectiveness of the algorithm say if the coding determines a patient is at risk of developing bowel cancer, they have an 8.8% chance of being diagnosed with the condition within two years.

The research has been carried out by experts at Oxford University and funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.

"The beauty of this algorithm is that it is a system which can be applied to GP surgery data, running quickly and efficiently to give a more accurate level of risk," said Professor Julietta Patnick, former director of NHS Cancer Screening, now a visiting professor at Oxford University.

Screening committee

The committee responsible for agreeing which screening methods are to be used by the NHS will now assess whether the algorithm can be used to compliment current bowel cancer screening programmes.

If they agree to rolling out the tech initiative, it could reduce the need for expensive and invasive tests, and speed up detection of the potentially deadly condition.

Dr Anne Mackie, Public Health England's director of screening, said: "The UK National Screening Committee welcomes this new research and will carefully look at its possible benefits alongside our current activities to improve bowel cancer screening."