A SIMPLE test to find out if people are at risk from bowel cancer could be on the way, thanks to the work of a York hospital doctor who is being backed by York Against Cancer.

The charity is funding Dr James Turvill, a consultant gastroenterologist at York Hospital, in research he hopes may significantly improve the way GPs decide who to send for bowel cancer tests.

One in 30 people will get bowel cancer during their lifetime, but and when caught early it is much easier to treat than with a late diagnosis.

Family doctors currently decide who should be referred to specialists by looking at patients’ symptoms.

However, Dr Turvill’s work could improve the way they decide who to refer and could even lead to people being able to buy home testing kits from chemists.

Dr Turvill said: “We are ahead of the curve with this.

“Other units are interested in this up and down the country. It could lead to us diagnosing cancers urgently and with much more efficiency.”

Symptoms of bowel cancer can be misleading; of every 100 patients going for fast-track hospital assessment, just six actually have bowel cancer.

To make matters worse, half of bowel cancers are detected in other ways, such as when patients turn up at A&E with symptoms of advanced disease.

Doctor Turvill is looking at two chemicals associated with a high risk of bowel cancer, and he thinks they could lead to a much improved testing regime.

In previous research the two substances, known as biomarkers, proved highly sensitive in detecting cases of bowel cancer – finding upwards of 98 per cent of cases.

Both biomarkers also flag up cases that go on to prove non-cancerous, although significantly fewer than are currently spotted using the current symptom-based analysis.

Dr Turvill, who conducted his early work with the support of York Hospital’s research and development unit and with the aid of a hospital grant, hopes that further tests will refine the process so that the biomarkers, either individually or in combination, can weed out more of these “false positives”.

York Against Cancer has given £35,000 to fund these further tests, and if they prove successful, a large-scale national study would follow.