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Cancer screening launched in Norfolk was so successful age limit is to be lowered

PUBLISHED: 10:36 13 August 2018 | UPDATED: 10:36 13 August 2018

BBC Radio Norfolk presenter Roy Waller. Photo: Archant

BBC Radio Norfolk presenter Roy Waller. Photo: Archant

A bowel cancer screening programme which was launched in Norfolk has been so successful the age at which it is offered is to be lowered.

The NHS Bowel Screening Programme launched at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) in 2006, it was one of just two hospitals in the UK selected to participate.

Since, it has been rolled out nationwide and until now has meant everyone aged over 60 is invited for a screening and sent a home testing kit.

Now the UK National Screening Committee recommended this drop to 50.

And ministers accepted the proposals of the independent experts on Friday.

A new, improved test called a faecal immunochemical home test kit (FIT) will also be rolled out.

The new test, which is easier to use than the current test and more accurate in detecting potential cancer, will initially be offered to those aged 60 to 74 years old every two years.

It is expected to be gradually rolled out to over-55s, followed by over-50s, but no timetable has yet been given.

Professor Anne Mackie, director of screening at Public Health England (PHE), said: “The risk of bowel cancer rises steeply from around age 50-54 and rates are significantly higher among males than females.

“Starting screening 10 years earlier at 50 will help spot more abnormalities at an early stage that could develop into bowel cancer if not detected.

“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.”

Men and women in England and Wales are currently offered a one-off bowel scope at the age of 55.

The procedure is expected to be maintained until the new home test is rolled out to this age group.

When the screening programme launched 12 years ago, it was estimated it would treat 60,000 people in central Norfolk and help save at least one life every two weeks with an expected take up of 60pc.

At the time Dr Richard Tighe, who was then consultant gastroenterologist and regional endoscopy lead and is still with the hospital now, said: “This new service is a lifesaver and we are delighted that men and women in central Norfolk will be among the first in the country to have the opportunity to be screened for bowel cancer.

“The test kit is simple to complete and I strongly encourage everyone offered the opportunity to participate.

“We believe this screening programme will help prevent 16pc of deaths from bowel cancer.”

The NNUH was chosen as one of the hospitals, along with Wolverhampton, because they were the top two in the country for short waiting times for bowel treatment.

Now, the hospital is taking the next steps in researching and treating the disease with the Quadram Institute set to open this year.

Former Radio Norfolk and bowel cancer survivor DJ Roy Waller, who died in 2010, once heralded the tests.

He was diagnosed with the disease in 2005 and underwent a five and a half hour operation to remove a growth known as a polyp, which he later was told was cancerous.

“This new screening programme is an absolutely fantastic idea,” he said. “The thing about the screening is that it can catch the disease early on. I didn’t have the opportunity to do this - if I had it could have been detected on time.

“This test is extremely simple and people do not need to be embarrassed because they can do it in their own home.

“It is fantastic the government are providing this funding and anyone who can take part should. It is also important people know if they have bowel cancer it doesn’t mean death. It can be treated and you stand a good chance if it is caught in the early stages.”

Public health minister Steve Brine said: “We are determined to make our cancer survival rates the best in the world.

“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.

“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.”

NHS England and PHE will now consider how to move towards lowering the age of screening.

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.”

Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK, said: “We have campaigned strongly for the screening age to be lowered to 50, in line with Scotland and the rest of the world, for some time now, so we are delighted to see this has been recommended.

“What is urgently required now is a clear plan from NHS England, setting out a sensible but ambitious time frame for implementation.

“This must address how current services will cope with introducing FIT.”

She added: “It will be vital to ensure that the NHS has enough staff and resources to deal with the increase in demand this would have on bowel cancer diagnostic services as a core part of the 10-year funding agreement.

“This will of course save the NHS money over the longer term, as an optimal bowel cancer screening programme can both prevent bowel cancer from developing or detect it early when it is cheaper and easier to treat.”

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