HEALTH leaders are urging the need for early diagnosis to tackle bowel cancer - with one in three people not coming forward for screening in Barnsley despite recent improvements to rates.

The borough’s screening rate for bowel cancer is 67.4 per cent, as of last year - higher than the national average of 65.2 per cent and Yorkshire and Humber average of 66.8 per cent.

Rates have been on a steady rise since 2015, when 60.6 per cent of people were covered by screening services, and now see the borough tenth-highest in Yorkshire and the Humber.

The data covers eligible people aged between 60 and 74 - who are offered free screening every two years - who had an adequate blood test within the previous 30 months.

Barnsley Hospital has been leading trials of a disposable, swallowable ‘pill camera’ which is hoped to speed up diagnosis and encourage more people to come forward - people who might otherwise be put off by invasive procedures.

Dr David Crichton, early diagnosis senior responsible officer at the South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw ICS Cancer Alliance, said: “The majority of people survive bowel cancer if diagnosed at the earliest stage.

“However, this drops significantly as the disease progresses.

“Early diagnosis really does save lives, and that’s why Bowel Cancer Awareness Month (in April) is so important because we need to encourage more people with bowel cancer symptoms to get themselves checked as early as possible.”

Cancer experts are investigating missed appointments in some of the most deprived areas locally where cancer risk is seen to be high, in partnership with the local Clinical Commissioning Group, NHS Trusts, and volunteers, primary care settings and pharmacies.

“There is a huge opportunity to improve survival rates across all types of cancer, but particularly for bowel cancer, and that’s what the Cancer Alliance is striving for,” added Dr Crichton.

“The NHS is here for you and your GP is waiting to see you. It might be nothing, but give yourself and your family peace of mind and get checked.”

Figures released by NHS Digital show that in 2019 - the most recent year for which figures are available - the index of cancer survival within one year of diagnosis was at 73.5 per cent for people in Barnsley.

This is compared with 72.8 per cent the year before, and the figure has risen by almost five per cent in the past ten years.

The percentage of cancers diagnosed at stage one or two in 2019 was 50.1 per cent - 4.3 per cent lower than six years prior and second-lowest in the region.

Dr Madhavi Guntamukkala, medical director for Barnsley CCG, said: “Over the past ten years, significant work has been done to raise awareness of signs and symptoms.

“This goes hand in hand with encouraging people to go to their GP when they notice something.”