Flexible sigmoidoscopy, which is an examination of the lower part of the bowel, has many potential benefits over tests that examine the whole of the large bowel, both for patients – who may find it more acceptable – and also for health services – that need to ensure resources are being used in the most effective way.
Prior to the SOCCER study, Professor Michael Thompson, colorectal surgeon, and Karen Thompson, epidemiologist, both from Portsmouth had carried out a study which showed that certain bowel cancer signs and symptoms are more common in people with bowel cancers in the lower part of the large bowel, and so within reach of the flexible sigmoidoscopy, and that other symptoms are more common in people with cancer in parts of the bowel that are out of reach of the flexible sigmoidoscopy. This was a study at only one hospital, but it provided early evidence that specific signs and symptoms could be used to predict when flexible sigmoidoscopy could be a safe and effective test to diagnose bowel cancer, and when it is less likely to be effective.
The SOCCER study follows on from this work on bowel cancer symptoms. We are aiming to provide evidence that is needed to show whether flexible sigmoidoscopy is an effective and safe alternative to whole colon examinations for many people. If our results confirm the earlier study, we anticipate that this will change how doctors diagnose bowel cancer in their patients based on their symptoms.