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Thousands more in the North West now eligible for lifesaving home testing for bowel cancer

2 months ago

By The Guide Liverpool

Thousands more in the North West now eligible for lifesaving home testing for bowel cancer
Credit: Mark Anthony Ray

Thousands more people in the North West will be sent a home-testing kit to help detect signs of bowel cancer, as the NHS expands the lifesaving NHS Bowel Screening Programme to people aged 54 in England. 

Those aged 54 and over will now automatically receive a home-testing kit for bowel cancer every two years by post when they become eligible.

The kit, known as the Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT), checks for blood in a small stool sample, which can be a sign of bowel cancer.

Bowel Cancer

Steve Hollington, a dad from Warrington, credits the FIT test with saving his life. He said:

“Taking the bowel screening kit has saved my life, and potentially given me 20 more years to live it.”

Steve, who was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer in 2022 after completing his first bowel screening says that it was a “winning lottery ticket” that the kit landed on his doormat.

Shortly after returning the completed kit, the NHS contacted Steve to say further investigation was required, and after a colonoscopy, two tumours were found in his bowel.  He said: “I could see at that point, that whatever the doctor had come across didn’t look good. After an MRI and a CT scan, I received the news confirming that it was, indeed, bowel cancer, which completely took me by surprise as I didn’t have a single symptom.”

Within weeks of diagnosis, Steve underwent surgery on his bowel and was fitted by a stoma post-surgery, to allow his bowel to heal. Eighteen lymph nodes were also removed, and he went through a three-month course of chemotherapy.

Steve said that he realises that the fear of knowing that you have cancer can be scary and overwhelming but said: “It’s a no-brainer for me. I had no symptoms, I would have carried on not knowing had I have not taken the test, and leaving it so long would have almost certainly been too late to receive the treatment I have.”

The FIT home testing kit is already made available through the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme to everyone aged 56 to 74.

The phased expansion to people aged 54 years means an additional 830,000 people in England will now be eligible for the screening test. 

Latest North West data shows that 66.5% of 60 to 74 year-olds completed their bowel screening in 2022/23. In the age extended cohorts, those aged 54 to 59, national modelling has shown uptake is up to 10% lower.

This significant expansion of the national bowel screening programme is the latest step in the NHS’s drive to find cancers at an earlier stage when they are easier to treat.

FIT kits are done at home by putting a poo sample in a small tube and returning it by post to the NHS for testing.

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

Results are sent back to participants, along with information about further tests, if needed.

Through regular screening, the programme aims to diagnose bowel cancers at an earlier stage, increasing the chances of successful treatment and survival.

bowel cancer

Tricia Spedding, Head of Public Health for NHS England in the North West said: 

“Our efforts to catch cancers at the earliest stages are saving lives, and expanding the bowel screening programme to those who are 54 will mean thousands more lives could potentially be saved.

“The FIT kit is a vital part of our screening programme, and can catch cancer even before there are any signs or symptoms, and often when it is more treatable.

“I would urge anyone who receives a kit through the post to return it as quickly as you can. Please don’t ignore it.”

Around two out of 100 people who use the kit will require further testing. People aged 75 and over can request a kit by phoning the NHS bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60.

Since the FIT kit was introduced into the screening programme in April 2019, national uptake has increased from 59.2% to 67.8%.

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.

If you notice any symptoms of bowel cancer, contact your GP and don’t wait for your screening test. The type of changes to look out for are changes in your usual bowel habits for 3 weeks or more:

  1. Tummy discomfort
  2. Blood in poo
  3. Diarrhoea or constipation for no obvious reason
  4. A feeling of not having emptied your bowels after going to the toilet
  5. Pain in your stomach or bottom
  6. Your poo is loose, pale or looks greasy

People 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 here.

Find out the latest news in Liverpool here.

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