Bowel cancer patients are more likely to stay cancer free if they have follow-up tests, Southampton experts have revealed.

For the first time the study, carried out by the University of Southampton, has provided unequivocal evidence that follow-up tests, even for patients with early stage bowel cancer, can win the fight against the disease.

They found that both standard CT scans and a blood test improved doctors’ chances of detecting and removing a recurrence of colorectal cancer – which is the third most common cancer in the world.

And more importantly, the study found that just one of these tests is needed to detect any cancerous cells, reducing the need for extra hospital visits and exposure to unnecessary radiation.

Study participants who underwent either of the tests were two to three times more likely to undergo another surgery that rid them of a recurring cancer, compared to colorectal cancer patients who did not receive follow-up screening after their initial surgery.

During the study, more than 1,200 patients from 39 hospitals in England were split into one of four groups.

The first group received minimal follow-up screening after surgery, the second received CT scans only, the third received CEA blood testing only and the fourth received both CEA testing and CT scans.

About 2.3 per cent of the patients in the minimum follow-up group received a second surgery to remove the recurring colorectal cancer.

By comparison, 6.7 per cent of the CEA group and eight per cent of the CT group received another surgery to treat a cancer recurrence.

People who received both CEA testing and a CT scan did not have any advantage in cancer detection over those who underwent CT or CEA testing alone.

John Primrose, Professor of Surgery at the University of Southampton who led the study, said: “The fact that there’s no apparent advantage in having both tests means that follow-up appointments can become more economical.

“CEA testing has the advantage that it can be done by the GP, thereby avoiding hospital visits, and has no radiation dose.

“This study gives us, for the first time, unequivocal evidence of the benefits of following up patients who have had surgery for colorectal cancer.

“We also now know that even patients with early stage bowel cancer benefit from follow-up too.”