New bowel and cervical cancer screening pilot schemes
11th December 2012 - New screening tests for bowel and cervical cancer have been announced by the government.
The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, addressed the 'Britain against Cancer' conference in London where he said he wanted to bring standards in England up to the best in Europe.
For some cancer types, survival rates are 10% to 15% lower in England than in comparable countries such as Australia, Canada and Sweden.
Earlier bowel cancer screening
Pilot programmes to screen over-55s for bowel cancer are to be launched in six areas of England.
The trials will be held by NHS trusts in Norwich, South of Tyne, St Mark's London, Surrey, West Kent and Wolverhampton.
The screening, called flexible sigmoidoscopy, involves a thin, flexible tube with a camera attached being passed into the rectum and lower bowel, making it possible to directly visualise any potential or actual cancers and to take biopsies if necessary.
The screening programme at the moment uses faecal occult blood tests (testing for blood in the stool) which is a postal service and is offered to those aged 60 to 69 in England. Those over 70 can ask to continue to be sent screening kits.
Substantial and lasting benefits
40,000 people a year are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK, with around 16,000 of them dying from it. If it’s caught early, there is a 90% survival rate.
Head of the NHS screening programme Professor Julietta Patnick says the sigmoidoscopy screening programme is an important development.
“Research has shown that this method of screening is a safe and reliable test which, when offered as a one-off test to the appropriate age group, will confer substantial and lasting benefit.”
She says, "This pilot will mark the start of a full-roll out across England over the next few years. Bowel scope screening will be offered to men and women aged 55 and will be available for those aged up to 59. Faecal occult blood testing will continue to be offered to men and women from the age of 60."
Bowel charities welcome the news
Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK, has welcomed the launch of the pilots. She says: “This simple test can help to prevent bowel cancer from developing and can also help detect cancer at an early stage. Early diagnosis is vital if we are to save lives from bowel cancer. We strongly recommend people take part in the programme when it becomes available in their area."
Mark Flannagan, chief executive of Beating Bowel Cancer, says in a statement: "We welcome the Government’s commitment to the introduction of flexible sigmoidoscopy as part of the Prime Minister’s previous pledge, which will give patients greater access to diagnostic tests.
"Over 90% of cases of bowel cancer can be treated successfully if caught in the initial stages, so screening is essential to ensure we give patients the best chance of recovery. Bringing in this test has the potential to save thousands of lives through early detection."