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NHS expands bowel cancer home testing to speed up diagnosis

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Hundreds of thousands more people will be sent a home-testing kit that can help to detect signs of bowel cancer, the NHS has announced.

The health service is expanding its lifesaving screening programme to individuals aged 54 in England.

People aged 54 will now automatically be send a home test kit every two years by post when they become eligible.

The faecal immunochemical test (FIT) checks for blood in a small stool sample, which can be a sign of bowel cancer.

The phased expansion to people aged 54 years means an additional 830,000 people in England will now be eligible for the screening test, with London, which has the lowest uptake in the country, among the first places to roll out to this age group.

The expansion of the national bowel screening programme is the latest step in the NHS’s drive to find cancers at an earlier stage when they are easier to treat.

Steve Russell, National Director for Vaccinations and Screening at NHS England, said: “Lives are saved when cancers are caught early and this expansion of our bowel cancer screening programme to those aged 54 will help to spot signs of bowel cancer sooner, and potentially save thousands of lives.

“We are seeing positive uptake of the home testing FIT kits, with over two thirds of those eligible returning their tests, but we want to see even more people taking up the offer.

“I would encourage anyone who is sent a kit to return their tests as quickly as you can – most people won’t have signs of cancer, but if the test does detect anything, we can ensure they are sent on for further tests and treatment.”

FIT kits are done at home by putting a poo sample in a small tube and posting it to the NHS for testing.

Those newly eligible will receive an invitation letter and will be sent their kit with full instructions and prepaid return packaging.

Results are sent back to participants, along with information about further tests, if required.

Through regular screening, the programme aims to diagnose bowel cancer at an earlier stage, increasing the chances of successful treatment and survival.

Bowel cancer is the third most common type of cancer in England and early detection can significantly improve treatment outcomes.

Around two out of 100 people who use the kit will require further testing.

Since the FIT kit was introduced into the screening programme in April 2019, national uptake has increased from 59.2 per cent to 67.8 per cent.

The FIT kit is more convenient to use than the previous home test because it only requires one sample which can be done at home and is then returned in a sealed bottle.

Due to the increased uptake with the FIT kit, more cancers are now being detected than when the previous test was used, the NHS said in a press release.

Dr Lisa Wilde, Director of Research and External Affairs at Bowel Cancer UK, said: “This is fantastic news and a massive step in the right direction towards screening from 50 in England, which we’ve long campaigned for.

“Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK but it’s treatable and curable if diagnosed early.

“Screening is one of the best ways to detect bowel cancer early and can often find it before symptoms develop.

“For most people, the home test should be fairly easy to complete and the majority of those who take part in screening won’t have bowel cancer.

“Quite simply, bowel cancer screening could save your life and we would encourage everyone to complete the test when they receive it.”

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