Hundreds of thousands more people across England are likely to take up the offer of bowel cancer screening thanks to the introduction of a new and simpler home-testing kit, Public Health Minister Jane Ellison has announced.
Ms Ellison said she hoped the new test, which will now be offered to all men and women aged 60 to 74 every two years in a bid to spot the early signs of bowel cancer, would be a “game changer”.
It has been estimated that the new test will increase screening uptake by around 10% – meaning an additional 200,000 people could be tested each year.
This means that hundreds of lives could be potentially saved, the Department of Health said.
Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis, welcomed the announcement, saying it could potentially transform the effectiveness of bowel cancer screening and early diagnosis of the disease.
“It’s hugely positive news that the Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) will replace the older test so now people will only need to take a single sample when using the screening kit delivered to their homes making it easier for people to do the test.
“The bowel screening programme is crucial in reducing deaths from bowel cancer, and research shows that this change will make the test even more effective. Bringing in the new test in England will save more lives by detecting the disease early when it is more likely to be treated successfully.
“The need for improvements to the bowel screening programme was set out in the new cancer strategy for England last year so it’s good to see progress being made.”
The new kit relies on a method called the Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT), which looks for hidden blood in stool samples. It is far easier to use than the current method, FoBT, which requires two samples from each of three separate stools.
By contrast the FIT test only needs one sample.
At present just 58% of people who are sent the test return their samples for testing – and in some parts of England this figure is much lower.
Ms Ellison said: “This new test is an exciting game changer for helping us beat bowel cancer. It is easier to use, will increase the number of tests and help us tackle cancer earlier.
“Someone is diagnosed with bowel cancer every 15 minutes in the UK and we know early detection is absolutely crucial. More than 90% of cases can be treated successfully if diagnosed early.”
Bowel cancer is England’s second biggest cancer killer. Across the country around 13,000 people die from the disease each year.