Simpler bowel cancer test kit a 'game changer' that could save hundreds of lives
Hundreds of thousands more people will test themselves for bowel cancer thanks to a new and simpler home-testing kit, health officials have said.
The new bowel cancer assessment is to be rolled out across England, Public Health Minister Jane Ellison has announced.
It has been estimated that the new test will increase screening uptake by around 10% - meaning an additional 200,000 people will test themselves each year.
This means that hundreds of lives could be potentially saved, the Department of Health said.
Ms Ellison said she hoped the new test, which will now be offered to all men and women aged 60 to 74 every two years in a bid to spot the early signs of bowel cancer, would be a "game changer".
The new test, which looks for hidden blood in stool samples, is far easier to use than the current method. The current test requires two stool samples from three separate stools but the new version only needs one sample.
At present just 58% of people who are sent the test actually complete it.
Ms Ellison said: "This new test is an exciting game changer for helping us beat bowel cancer. It is easier to use, will increase the number of tests and help us tackle cancer earlier.
"Someone is diagnosed with bowel cancer every 15 minutes in the UK and we know early detection is absolutely crucial. More than 90% of cases can be treated successfully if diagnosed early."
Commenting on the announcement, Deborah Alsina, chief executive of the charity Bowel Cancer UK, said: "Today's announcement by the Government to replace the test used in the England Bowel Cancer Screening Programme with the new Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) represents an important and crucial step forward in saving more lives from bowel cancer.
"FIT has been proven to be more accurate and easier for people to complete than the current test used in the programme.
"This is crucial as we know that screening has a vital role to play in detecting bowel cancer early, when it is more treatable and chances of survival are high, so we are delighted that the Government has committed to introducing FIT in England and we look forward to continuing working with them to ensure FIT is introduced into the programme quickly."
Bowel cancer is England's second biggest cancer killer, across the country around 13,000 people die of bowel cancer each year.
Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK's director of early diagnosis, said: "It's hugely positive news that the FIT will replace the older test so now people will only need to take a single sample when using the screening kit delivered to their homes making it easier for people to do the test.
"The bowel screening programme is crucial in reducing deaths from bowel cancer, and research shows that this change will make the test even more effective. Bringing in the new test in England will save more lives by detecting the disease early when it is more likely to be treated successfully.
"The need for improvements to the bowel screening programme was set out in the new cancer strategy for England last year so it's good to see progress being made."
Mark Flannagan, chief executive of the charity Beating Bowel Cancer, said: "At the moment only 6 in 10 people who are sent the current test complete it.
"We want to see a significant increase in the numbers of people being screened so they are more in line with breast and cervical cancer screening programmes. Introducing the new FIT test is an excellent move in the right direction and it should be rolled out as soon as possible.
"In the meantime, it's important that if you receive the existing test through the post that you complete it, even if you're fit and healthy, as it could save your life."