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Thousands with cancer-causing condition offered life-saving NHS bowel cancer test

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The NHS is offering routine preventative bowel cancer screening to thousands of people in England with a genetic condition that increases their risk of developing certain cancers.

The world-first move by the health service aims to help reduce cases and identify bowel cancers earlier when successful treatment and cure is more likely.

As part of the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme, people with Lynch syndrome are now invited for bowel surveillance every two years, where they are seen by a specialist team and assessed for a colonoscopy to check for polyps and signs of bowel cancer.

The routine colonoscopies will be offered at local bowel cancer screening centres, close to peoples’ homes, making it more convenient for them to get tested.

Health Minister, Andrew Stephenson said: “Identification and follow up of people at high risk of cancer is an important and ever-more feasible strand of our efforts to reduce deaths and illness from cancer.

“Today’s announcement means that those with Lynch syndrome can be routinely screened for bowel cancer, helping to identify potential issues in a timely way as part of the NHS bowel cancer screening programme.

“This means that the NHS has a better chance of finding cancers at a time when they can be more easily and effectively treated.”

Lynch syndrome is an inherited condition that increases the risk of certain cancers, including bowel, ovarian and pancreatic.

Out of 100 individuals with Lynch syndrome, screening prevents between 40 and 60 people from getting bowel cancer.

Around 10,000 people in England are on the Lynch syndrome register and are being invited to join Lynch surveillance as part of the NHS bowel cancer screening programme.

With many more unknowingly living with the disease, thousands of extra cancers will potentially be diagnosed and treated earlier.

A diagnosis for Lynch syndrome not only helps guide more personalised cancer treatment but enables their families and relatives to be offered testing, too.

Around 1,100 bowel cancers are caused by Lynch syndrome each year in England – and it is thought the syndrome increases the lifetime risk of developing bowel cancer up to around 80 per cent.

Steve Russell, national director of screening and vaccinations for the NHS, said: “Our successful bowel cancer screening programme already helps identify thousands of cancers each year, and now thousands more people who have been diagnosed with Lynch syndrome will also be given regular colonoscopies to check for signs of cancer and to detect the disease earlier.

“Ensuring people who we know are at a greater risk of developing cancers get regular screening is key to diagnosing cancers at an earlier stage, and I’d encourage everyone invited to come forward and get their screening at a local centre near them.”

It is estimated that 1 in 400 people in England have Lynch syndrome (equivalent to around 175,000 people), but just 5 per cent are aware they are living with the condition.

People with Lynch syndrome are more likely to develop multiple cancers and be diagnosed at a younger age.

For example, bowel cancer is most common in those aged over 50 but in someone younger, it may be a sign of Lynch syndrome.

The NHS is now able to identify the condition through a simple blood test, which then goes through a regional genomic laboratory hub, is sequenced, and then sent back to the referring clinician.

Relatives who receive a diagnosis of Lynch syndrome can be referred to genetic services to discuss regular testing options to help catch any cancers as early as possible, as well as to consider preventive options such as taking aspirin or undergoing risk-reducing surgery.

While the syndrome does not directly cause cancer, the genetic changes can lead to more abnormal cells developing, which then multiply and increase the risk of developing cancers, such as bowel, prostate and endometrial, among others.

Dr Kevin Monahan, lead for the NHS England Lynch syndrome transformation project, said: “Incorporating people with Lynch syndrome into the national colonoscopy screening programme is game-changing and will save many lives each year.

“It will deliver prevention and early diagnosis of bowel cancer through timely and high-quality colonoscopy. Now diagnosis of this hereditary condition in England will be linked to lifelong patient-focused care.”

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