Ministers have agreed with the national screening committee’s recommendation that bowel screening for cancer in England should start earlier at the age of 50.
The independent expert screening committee has now recommended that the bowel screening to detect signs of cancer in England should in future start 10 years earlier at the age of 50.
Current processes see men and women aged 60 to 74 invited for bowel screening and are sent a home test kit every two years to provide stool samples.
Introducing a new process for bowel screening
Following a review of the evidence, the committee now recommends that screening should be offered from 50 to 74 years using the faecal immunochemical home test kit (FIT).
This evidence has shown that doing these screenings at a younger age would enable more bowel cancers to be detected at earlier stages, meaning treatment and chances of survival are improved.
Now, NHS England and Public Health England (PHE) will consider how to transition towards lowering the screening age as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.
When will the new FIT test be implemented?
The FIT test is due to be implemented into the national bowel screening programme in the Autumn and will initially be offered every two years to men and women at the current age range of 60 to 74.
It is easier to use than the current test and is more accurate in detecting potential cancers. The latest recommendations will not delay the roll out of FIT, which is a priority.
The current bowel screening programme has a complementary procedure, bowel scope, also known as flexible sigmoidoscopy, which is a one-off test offered to men and women at 55. The committee recommends maintaining bowel scope screening in England, where it is currently rolled out until FIT is offered to the same age group.
Having the best bowel screening programme possible
Professor Anne Mackie, Director of Screening at PHE, said: “The risk of bowel cancer rises steeply from around age 50 to 54 and rates are significantly higher among males than females. Starting screening ten years earlier at 50 will help spot more abnormalities at an early stage that could develop into bowel cancer if not detected.
“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.”
A more convenient and reliable test
Public Health Minister, Steve Brine said: “We are determined to make our cancer survival rates the best in the world. With the roll out of FIT as a new bowel screening test from the autumn – a much more convenient and reliable test – we have a real opportunity to reshape our bowel screening programme and potentially detect the stages of bowel cancer much earlier.
“We are now considering opportunities and taking expert advice on how a sustainable, optimal bowel cancer screening programme starting at age 50 can work in the future.”