NHS expands lifesaving home testing kits for bowel cancer

Home-testing kits that can help detect early-stage bowel cancer will be rolled out to 58-year-olds in England for the first time, as part of a major expansion of the lifesaving screening programme.

People aged 58 years will be automatically sent a Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) once eligible, which can detect early signs of bowel cancer by precisely recording the presence of any blood in just a tiny sample of poo.

Around 830,000 additional people aged 58 years in England will now be eligible for the screening test, with London, which has the lowest uptake in the country, being one of the first places to roll out to this age group.

The move is the latest stage in the phased rollout for people aged 50 and over.

FIT kits can be conveniently carried out at home by putting a poo sample in a small tube and returning it by post to the NHS for further tests.

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

The NHS Long Term Plan committed to lowering the age of those eligible for home-testing kits to everyone aged 50 and above by 2025.

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer with almost 43,000 cases in the UK each year – it can be easier to treat if found at an earlier stage.

National Clinical Director for Cancer Professor Peter Johnson, said: “We are expanding the bowel cancer screening programme in a phased approach to make sure we can diagnose bowel cancer as early as possible, often before symptoms appear – potentially saving thousands of lives with a simple and convenient test.

“I would encourage anyone who is sent a kit to return their tests as quickly as you can, because this can detect early signs of bowel cancer and ensure that anyone affected can get treatment for the disease sooner, while making it more accessible for people, including vulnerable groups, to do at home.

“It is still important that anyone experiencing symptoms, such as blood in their poo or severe stomach pain, no matter their age, should speak to their GP as soon as possible – so please don’t be prudish about poo and get checked if you have any worrying signs”.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “The FIT kit offers people a chance to quickly and safely test for bowel cancer at home, and this expansion of the screening programme will ensure more cases are detected earlier.

“More than 16,000 people die from this disease every year in the UK, meaning that greater screening uptake is vital.

“I urge you to use the kit when it lands on your door and stay alert for the main symptoms of bowel cancer, such as abdominal pain or blood in the stool, to help stop the disease in its tracks”.

Genevieve Edwards, Chief Executive at Bowel Cancer UK says: “This is a step in the right direction towards screening from 50, which we’ve long campaigned for. Screening is one of the best ways to diagnose bowel cancer early, or in some cases prevent it from developing in the first place, and so inviting more people to take part is welcomed.

“Offering the home test to more people is just one of the ways to improve bowel screening, however, the biggest barrier to improving early diagnosis, and offering a world-class screening programme, is the long-standing workforce shortage in endoscopy and pathology services. The new Prime Minister must urgently address this in the upcoming 10-Year Cancer Plan to meet the ambition to diagnose 75% of cancers early by 2028”.

Marjorie Harper was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2019 after she received her bowel screening kit and called it a “life saver”, as she would never have known she had bowel cancer due to having no symptoms.

Ms Harper urges everyone eligible for the kits should use them and said: “I was so scared when I was told I had cancer, I just stopped and knew that I would have to fight it for my family – the ones I love dearly. After losing my husband to a tumour several years ago, the ‘C’ word scared me, but I knew I was strong.

“The care I received was second to none. Even though you are never really given the all-clear, I go every five months and get told there isn’t any cancer there and those words are music to my ears”.

Around 2% of people who use the kit will require further testing.

The FIT home testing kit is already available to everyone aged 60 to 74 and most 56 year olds in England.

Since the FIT kit was introduced in April 2019 national uptake has increased to 66.8% compared to 59.2%.

The FIT kit is more convenient to use than the previous home test as 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. It also has fewer false positives meaning more polyps can be removed at colonoscopy that might otherwise grow into cancers.

People concerned that they may have missed their invitation can call the free bowel cancer screening helpline for advice on 0800 707 60 60. Information on bowel cancer and the screening programme can be found on the NHS.UK website (www.nhs.uk/conditions/bowel-cancer-screening/).