Researchers have developed a five-minute screening test that could cut the risk of developing bowel cancer by a third.
The research led by Imperial College London has been published in the Lancet.
According to the 16-year study, funded by the Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research, and Cancer Research UK, a single flexible sigmoidoscopy examination in men and women aged between 55 and 64 reduced the incidence of bowel cancer by a third, compared with a control group who had usual care.
Screening with flexible sigmoidoscopy (named the 'Flexi-Scope test' by the research team) was particularly effective in the lower bowel, where it halved incidence of the disease.
Over the course of the study, bowel cancer mortality was reduced by 43 percent in the group that had the Flexi-Scope test compared with the control group.
The randomised trial followed 170,432 people over an average period of 11 years, of whom 40,674 underwent a single Flexi-Scope exam.
Professor Wendy Atkin from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London, who led the research, said: "Our study shows for the first time that we could dramatically reduce the incidence of bowel cancer, and the number of people dying from the disease, by using this one-off test. No other bowel cancer screening technique has ever been shown to prevent the disease. Our results suggest that screening with Flexi-Scope could save thousands of lives."
The Flexi-Scope test works by detecting and removing growths on the bowel wall, known as polyps, which can become cancerous if they are left untreated. Flexi-Scope is able to prevent cancer from developing by removing polyps before they become cancerous.