Health August 10, 2018
Bowel screening in England to start at age 50

By Daniel Male - Accountable Care Journal

Ministers agree with national screening committee's recommendations to move bowel screening 10 years earlier to begin at age 50.

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, and Public Health Minister, Steve Brine, have today agreed the recommendations. NHS England and Public Health England will now consider how to transition towards lowering the screening age as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.

Currently, men and women, aged 60 to 74, are invited for bowel screening and are sent a home test kit every 2 years to provide stool samples. This change brings testing in England in line with Scotland which begins at 50.

The evidence shows that screening people at a younger age would enable more bowel cancers to be picked up at an earlier stage, where treatment is likely to be more effective and survival chances improved.

The faecal immunochemical home test kit (FIT) is a new test due to be rolled out into the national bowel screening programme in the autumn and will initially be offered every 2 years to men and women at the current age range of 60 to 74. FIT is easier to use than the current test and is more accurate in detecting potential cancers. The latest recommendations will not delay the rollout of FIT, which is a priority.

Professor Anne Mackie, Director of Screening at Public Health England, said: "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."

Public Health Minister, Steve Brine said: "We have a real opportunity to reshape our bowel screening programme and potentially detect the stages of bowel cancer much earlier."

Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, said: "These important recommendations will be carefully considered in the NHS Long Term Plan, which will set out ambitious improvements in cancer prevention and care for the decade ahead."

The current bowel screening programme has a complementary procedure, bowel scope, also known as flexible sigmoidoscopy, which is a one-off test offered to men and women at 55. The committee recommends maintaining bowel scope screening in England, where it is currently rolled out until FIT is offered to the same age group.