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NHS Bowel Cancer screening must improve men’s uptake to reduce unnecessary deaths

Embargo: Monday 19th September

  • Men are more likely than women to die from bowel cancer but are less likely to be screened.
  • GPs, practice nurses and pharmacists, and sex specific information, are key to tackling the issue.

A new report from the Men’s Health Forum charity highlights the paradox of bowel cancer – men are 54% more likely than women to develop bowel cancer but are much less likely to take up the offer of screening. 52% of men have taken up the offer of screening compared to 58% of women.

The research was funded mainly by the Department of Health and the report is being launched during Blue September – the new campaign helping men to face up to cancer.

The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme began in 2006 and now covers the whole of England. It offers screening every two years to all men and women aged 60 to 69.

The Men’s Health Forum believes it is essential to make sure men consider screening when the opportunity is offered.

Peter Baker, chief executive of the Men’s Health Forum, said:

“Men are at greater risk of bowel cancer but are less likely to take up screening. We call this the bowel cancer paradox and it is very striking. So too is the simplicity of the actions required to tackle it. In our research, both men and women told us they were would prefer information about screening that was written specifically for their own sex. Time and again, the importance of GPs, other primary care professionals and spouses or partners in men’s decision-making process was also mentioned.

“The lesson here is that men invited to take part in the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme should always make the effort talk to someone if they are not sure whether to take part.

“It might be that their initial instinct is to bury their head in the sand but a positive word from a relative, friend or health professional might be all it needs to persuade them to think more seriously.”

Other key points from the report:

  • Men are less likely to take part in bowel cancer screening in most countries that have such programmes suggesting there is something ‘male’ about not taking part.
  • When it was explained to them, men were more likely to see the test used (the faecal occult blood test – FOBt) as simple to do. The message about practicality could be brought to the forefront of information.
  • For some men who feel fit and well, it may seem that the FOBt is either not relevant or that somehow there is “more to lose” by taking it (because it might find something wrong).
  • The inclination in men simply to “deny” health concerns, either through inertia or unacknowledged fear, is not perhaps as commonplace as some people believe. Nevertheless, it is an important factor in some cases.



The full report can be downloaded from

The Men’s Health Forum (MHF) is a charity that provides an independent and authoritative voice for male health in England and Wales and tackles the issues and inequalities affecting the health and well-being of men and boys.

The MHF’s vision is a future in which all boys and men in England and Wales have an equal opportunity to attain the highest possible level of health and well-being.

The MHF exists because men are unnecessarily and disproportionately affected by a wide range of health problems and too often die too young. 42% of men die before the age of 75 compared to 26% of women.

Men are almost 40% more likely than women to die from cancer and they are 16% more likely to develop the disease in the first place. After excluding breast cancer and cancers specific to one or other sex from the analysis, the difference is even greater - with men being almost 70% more likely to die from cancer and over 60% more likely to develop the disease.

This year sees the UK’s first Blue September campaign to help men face up to cancer (

The MHF runs the award-winning health information website

MHF Bowel Cancer Project

The Men’s Health Forum Bowel Cancer Project was funded mainly by the Department of Health with additional support from the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes and Roche Products Ltd.

The objectives of the project were:

  • To understand why men appear less willing than women to participate in the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme (NHSBCSP).
  • To recommend actions which might encourage men more seriously to consider participating in the NHSBCSP and thus potentially increase male uptake and close the gap in uptake between men and women.
  • To add to the more general knowledge-base about “what works” in encouraging and enabling better male health.

Page created on September 16th, 2011

Page updated on September 16th, 2011


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