Bowel cancer screening extended

The age range for participating in bowel cancer screening  in England is gradually being extended downwards from age 74 to 50.  Now a faecal immunochemical test (FIT) kit is sent to everyone aged 56 instead of the bowel scope previously offered at this age. This year the Southern Hub in Guildford is commencing sending FIT kits to 58 year olds. Over the next 3-4 years, the NHS in England is committed to  extending the age range to those who are aged 54, 52 and 50.

What is a FIT test and why should we take part?

When  it launched in 2006, the screening programme initially covered the age range 60-69 and in 2011 it was extended to 74 year olds. Those over 74 can request a FIT kit biennially from their Screening Hub but must do each time subsequently. In 2019/20 the programme adopted the ‘simple to use’ FIT kit in place of the guaiac faecal occult blood test (gFOBT). This new test is a markedly improved kit requiring a single sample which can detect the presence of very small quantities of blood in a poo sample. Blood can be a sign of polyps or bowel cancer. Polyps are tiny growths in the bowel, they are not cancer, but some may turn into cancer over time.

Everyone registered with a GP and of an eligible age automatically receives two yearly invitations to be screened with the FIT test. Everything you need is in the box, including instructions and packaging for returning your sample for testing. It may not be the way you imagined celebrating your birthday but it has the potential to be literally life-saving! If the FIT test detects blood, you receive an invitation to a screening clinic to discuss your results and decide whether further tests are necessary.

Expert advice

GUTS trustee Professor Stephen Halloran was closely involved in developing and setting up the National Bowel Cancer Screening Programme in the UK and in other various countries. He said: “The screening programmes in the UK have proven to be a wonderful success and have saved thousands of lives. Our change to the very simple and sensitive FIT device has transformed the programme, it is so easy to use and a very sensitive marker of the presence of early cancer. FIT based bowel cancer screening programmes have been adopted across the world and we should be proud that this local initiative has contributed to saving lives internationally!

“Why would you not do a FIT screening test if invited by the screening programme? 30% of those invited in England do just that!”

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