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New NHS bowel cancer test planned

A new test for bowel cancer is to be offered to everyone aged 55 to 60 in England, which could save an extra 3,000 lives a year.

The UK National Screening Committee has given the green light for the technique to be used on the NHS after figures revealed it could reduce the incidence of bowel cancer by 33% and death rates by 43%.

All men and women, when they turn 55, will receive an invitation for bowel cancer screening that will use FlexiSig technology. The process will also be open to men and women aged 55 - 60 who express an interest in screening for bowel cancer by FlexiSig. For men and women who are between 60 and 74, current bowel screening methods through faecal occult blood test (FOBT) are applicable.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy (FS) involves a tube being inserted into the rectum and lower bowel, enabling a doctor to look at the wall of the bowel. The technique should offer a better picture of the threat of bowel cancer in patients than the current faecal occult blood (FOB) test, which relies on people providing stool samples.

Using FS, doctors can not only identify small growths known as polyps, which have the potential to develop into bowel cancer, but they can also remove them immediately.

By doing so, many more lives could be saved before the disease gets a chance to take hold.

It is unclear exactly how long it will take for the NHS to roll out the new screening programme.

Professor Julietta Patnick, Director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, said the new test would be an "important addition to our existing bowel cancer screening programme".

Care services minister, Paul Burstow, said: "Bowel cancer is one of the biggest killers in England. That is why we are investing £60m over the next four years to fund flexible sigmoidoscopy and why we recently launched a campaign to make people more aware of the early signs of cancer.

"We hope that these measures will help us achieve our goal of having cancer outcomes among the best in the world."

Copyright © Press Association 2011

UK National Screening Committee

We asked if you think the new testing will make a difference. Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"This is good news, in response to David Lakin - ages 50-60 are higher risk than the older age groups. The FS is thought to detect early cancers and allow treatment of precancerous polyps to protect patients for 5-10 years as bowel cancer tends to be slow growing. Despite this there will be people that will be unlucky enough to not be screened with FS when they
need it, but remember the FOBT test is continuing. Hopefully we can reduce the NHS burden of this dreadful cancer" - Craig Jones, London

"This will make a huge difference, this is the best news in a long time. I am a practice nurse and ex district nurse who has seen countless younger patients with bowel cancer, many with young families. I don't believe that occult blood tests can be relied on to detect early signs of this dreadful disease, and early detection obviously offers the best outcome of survival. We have such great diagnostic methods in 2011, let's use them" - Wendy Murray, Hampshire

"A big yes" - Keith Eade, Hull

"Yes, if as it is claimed to save an extra 3,000 lives a year" - Roy Abraham, Chesham

"Of course this will make a difference, I was fortunate enough to have had this 2 years ago and it saved my life!" - Clive Hadley

"Why is the new test not being offered to persons 60-74 years. Is this a money saving form of age discrimination or is there a medical reason?" - David Lakin, Leicestershire

"Yes definitely all cancer screening is great as it identifies the cancer in its early stages. I will most definitely go for the screening" - Maggie, Essex

"I agree with John Davies, my cancer too came early and was only dealt with because personal vigilance, BC previously (always) killed males on both sides of my family. Regular testing must be available for all and much earlier" - Brian Lovett, UK

"Of course it will; however the food industry should be compelled to eliminate cancer-causing agents used in food production and we should be eating organic meat and vegetables to avoid pesticides and the hormones injected into cattle" - Jan Wilson, Liverpool

"Undoubtedly make a difference - however I got BC at 49 and know many other people who contracted it young. There seems to be little provision for identifying younger sufferers of any cancer early" - John Davies, UK