Bowel cancer screening will be made available to more people in Wales as home testing is expanded to include 55 to 57 year olds.
The expansion will mean 172,000 more people in Wales will start to receive easy to use kits that test for the early stages of bowel cancer. The move is part of a phased approach to lowering the screening age to 50 by October 2024.
People aged 55, 56 and 57 will start to be invited for screening from Wednesday 5th October and will receive their home testing kits in the post. The programme will be rolled out to the newly eligible age group gradually over the next 12 months.
Part of a 16 million investment package by the Welsh Government, the funding has supported the introduction the new, easier to use, FIT (Faecal Immunochemical Test) at home testing kit. The new home testing kits have helped improve screening uptake to 65% and have improved sensitivity to better detect those at risk of bowel cancer.
More than 2,500 people were diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2019. Screening plays an important role in detecting cancer earlier and helps to improve cancer outcomes in Wales.
The lowering of the screening age is based on the recommendation by the UK National Screening Committee.
Minister for Health and Social Services, Eluned Morgan said:
It is great to see the next phase of our plan to widen access to bowel cancer screening come into effect.
We have previously introduced the more user-friendly test and started inviting those aged 58-59. This next phase of the programme widens access to those aged 55-57.
This move will help us to identity more bowel cancer cases early and support improvement in survival rates.
I'm also pleased to see that more people are taking part in the programme and that the uptake rate now meets the expected standard.
In future, we plan to continue to optimise the programme by lowering the age range to 50 and increasing the sensitivity of the test until we come into line with UK recommendations.
Genevieve Edwards, Chief Executive at Bowel Cancer UK says:
This is a step in the right direction towards screening from 50 in Wales, which we've long campaigned for. Screening is one of the best ways to diagnose bowel cancer early, or in some cases prevent it from developing in the first place, and so inviting more people to take part is welcomed.
Offering the home test to more people is just one of the ways to improve bowel screening, however, the biggest barrier to improving early diagnosis, and offering a world-class screening programme, is the long-standing workforce shortage in endoscopy and pathology services. We now urgently need to address this through a comprehensive workforce plan that can support the bowel cancer screening programme in Wales to achieve its full potential.
Dr Sharon Hillier, Director of the Screening Division at Public Health Wales, said:
I'm delighted that we are expanding the bowel cancer screening programme to include those aged 55, 56 and 57 in Wales.
Bowel screening aims to find cancer at an early stage when treatment is likely to be more effective. Early detection is so important as at least 9 out of 10 people will survive bowel cancer if it's found and treated early.
Bowel screening also detects and removes pre-cancerous polyps that if left in the bowel could develop into cancer.
The invitation and test kit will be arriving via post to those who are eligible over the next 12 months. The test kit is easy to complete and to send to our laboratory for analysis.
I would urge everyone who receives an invitation to take up their offer as it could save their life.