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Bowel cancer screening to begin at 50, say Public Health England

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Currently, men and women aged between 60 and 74 are invited for bowel cancer screening every 2 years

Public Health England (PHE) have recommended that bowel cancer screening should start 10 years earlier – at the age of 50.

As it stands, men and women aged between 60 and 74 are invited for bowel cancer screening every 2 years where they are given a self-test kit to take home to provide a stool sample.

‘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,’ said Anne Mackie, director of screening at PHE.

‘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.’

Evidence from the UK National Screening Committee shows that screening at a younger age would enable earlier diagnosis and increase chances of survival.

The new test is called the faecal immunochemical home test kit (FIT) which looks for traces of blood within sample faeces. It is expected to be rolled out to those over 60 years old this autumn.

Symptoms of bowel cancer include: blood in your stool or bleeding from your rectum; persistent and unexplained changes in your bowel habits; unexplained weight loss; extreme tiredness for no clear reason; and a pain or lump in the stomach region.

Lowering the age limit would bring England into line with Scotland and now NHS England and PHE will consider this move as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.

‘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,’ said public health minister, Steve Brine.

‘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.’

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