A one-off screening test called Bowel Scope cuts the risk of developing bowel cancer by more than one third and could save thousands of lives, according to a new study published in The Lancet.
Bowel scope uses a tiny camera attached to a thin flexible tube to examine a specific part of the bowel to seek out polyps and remove them before they potentially turn cancerous.
The research - funded through a Medical Research Council (MRC) and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) partnership and Cancer Research UK - found that the test prevented more than half of potential bowel cancers from developing in the lower part of the large bowl and avoided two thirds of deaths.
The study - which followed more than 170,000 people for 17 years on average, 40,000 of whom had the test - found that, overall, the bowel scope prevented 35 percent of bowel cancers and 40 percent of related deaths.
"Bowel cancer can be prevented. And the bowel scope screening test is a great way to reduce the number of people diagnosed with the disease so it's vital that no one misses out on the opportunity to get the test," said Professor Wendy Atkin, Cancer Research UK's bowel screening expert and lead author based at Imperial College London.
However, while the government in England has committed to rolling out this test, there is a shortage of trained staff to carry it out, noted the charity's director of policy Emma Greenwood.
"A training scheme is underway but it's important that there are enough newly trained specialists to meet the growing demand for these life-saving tests," she stressed.
The government estimates that the bowel scope test will take at least another three years before it will be offered to the over 55s across England.