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Bowel cancer screening begins in April

Everyone between 60 and 69 is to be sent a home-screening test to check for bowel cancer. Although it is the the second largest cause of cancer death in the UK, 90% of cases can actually be successfully treated if caught early enough.

Health Minister Rosie Winterton has announced that the national bowel cancer screening programme would be phased in, starting from April 2006.  Men and women aged 60-69 years old will be screened every two years. People aged 70 and over will be provided with a testing kit only on request.

The programme, which will cost £37 million in its first two years of roll-out, is the first such programme in England and one of the first of its kind in Europe.

Home testing kits will be sent to around two million people in the target group each year enabling them to do the test in the privacy of their own homes. The person then sends the kit back to a laboratory to be analysed.

The screening programme will be phased in gradually over a three year period, giving the NHS time, the government says, 'to prepare and allocate resources'. It is envisaged that around 25% of England will be covered by the end of 2006/7. A further 25% will begin in 2007/8, with the final 50% beginning in 2008/9. The government expects all people in their 60's to be invited for screening by 2009.

Rosie Winterton said: 'Although bowel cancer affects more than one in 20 people in their lifetime, of those who get the disease 90% if it is caught early.

'Because of the nature of the disease, people can feel uncomfortable talking about it, let alone coping with the symptoms.  That is why the privacy and dignity that the home testing kits afford will help us better tackle the disease.'

The announcement has been welcomed by Beating Bowel Cancer, Cancer Research UK, the Men's Health Forum, CancerBACUP and Colon Cancer Concern.

Lynn Faulds-Wood of Lynn's Bowel Cancer Campaign and patron of the MHF said: 'I survived advanced bowel cancer and I've been investigating how to help save lives from bowel cancer for years - screening, in my opinion, is the best way and I am delighted that the Department of Health is launching its bowel cancer screening programme - it will prevent thousands of people from dying of this common cancer over the years.'

In 2003 there were 16,107 deaths from bowel cancer in the UK. It is estimated that screening could save 1,000 lives a year.

Five programme hubs, including testing laboratories, will be set up for inviting people and analysing the kits.  The five programme hubs will be commissioned centrally by NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, and funded by the Department of Health. The hubs could be provided by NHS or independent sector providers. A procurement exercise will take place later in the summer.

Page created on August 8th, 2005

Page updated on December 1st, 2009