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Bowel cancer screening

Volume 614: debated on Monday 5 September 2016

The petition of residents of the UK,

Declares that the age at which bowel cancer screening is offered by the NHS is too high at 60 years old, with up to 6,000 people in their 50s diagnosed with the condition each year; further that, when bowel cancer is diagnosed in its later stages, the five-year survival rate is 7%, compared to 97% when caught early; and further that an online petition on this matter has been signed by over 163,000 individuals.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Department of Health to consider the case for lowering the age of bowel cancer screening in England to the age of 50, in line with the screening age in Scotland.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Caroline Ansell , Official Report, 04 May 2016; Vol. 609, c. 279.]


Observations from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (David Mowat):

The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme offers screening using a self-sampling kit, the Faecal Occult Blood test (FOBt), every two years to men and women aged 60 to 74 who are registered with a GP. The kit is returned by post to a regional laboratory to be tested for hidden blood, a potential sign of bowel cancer. People eligible for screening receive an invitation letter explaining the programme, along with an information leaflet explaining the benefits and risks of bowel cancer screening. Men and women aged over 74 can self-refer for screening every two years if they wish.

The NHS bowel cancer screening programme in England began in 2006, with full roll-out completed in 2010. The programme in England initially offered screening to men and women aged 60 to 69 because the risk of bowel cancer increases with age. More than 80% of bowel cancers are diagnosed in people aged 60 or over. In the pilot, which was conducted in Coventry and Warwickshire and in Scotland in the late 1990s and early 2000s, more than three times as many cancers were detected in people aged over 60 than in those aged under 60, and people in their 60s were most likely to use a testing kit.

In addition to FOBt, the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme is currently rolling out bowel scope screening to men and women around the time of their 55th birthday. Bowel scope screening is a one-off examination which is an alternative and complementary bowel screening methodology to FOBt. The Secretary of State’s commitment is to have bowel scope screening rolled out to all screening centres in England by the end of 2016.

The UK National Screening Committee advises Ministers and the NHS in all four countries about all aspects of screening policy. It keeps the evidence for new and existing screening programmes under review and will provide further advice when new evidence becomes available.