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Bowel cancer screening to start ten years earlier in England and Wales

Wednesday 15th August 2018
A new test has made possible a decision to start screening patients for signs of bowel cancer ten years sooner than before.
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The age at which screening for bowel cancer takes place in England and Wales is to be lowered by ten years, the government has announced. 

At present, screening is on offer to individuals aged between 60 and 74, with these patients also being sent a home test kit to provide stool samples every two years. 

However, an independent expert committee has concluded that the age at which screening begins should now be 50, following the development of the new faecal immunochemical home test kit (FIT), as this is expected to be able to pick up signs of the disease at an earlier stage. 

FIT is set to be rolled out in England and Wales from this autumn, offering a more reliable test to patients than those currently available. 

The recommendations were accepted by health secretary Matt Hancock and public health minister Steve Brine, with NHS England and Public Health England now tasked with devising a long-term plan to implement the new screening system. 

Director of screening at Public Health England Professor Anne Mackie said earlier screening would make it easier to detect "abnormalities" with the potential to turn cancerous in due course.

“The committee recognises that this change will take time but wants the FIT test to be offered to all aged 60 and over as soon as possible, and options considered for a roll out plan where screening can be offered at 55 and eventually to all aged 50 - ensuring we have the best bowel screening programme possible.”

Bowel Cancer UK welcomed the news and called for a "sensible but ambitious timeframe" for the implementation of the new testing regime. 

It also urged the government to ensure the resources are given to the NHS to make sure the new screening services are able to deal with the increased demand, noting that the payback from this will be that less money will need to be spent on treating people for bowel cancer if early detection is more frequent. 

Written by Martin Lambert

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