Test 'could cut bowel cancer rates'
Everybody in England aged 55 to 64 will be invited for a new test which could dramatically cut their chances of developing bowel cancer.
The new test could save an extra 3,000 lives every year after the UK National Screening Committee gave the go-ahead for it to be added to the NHS programme.
Flexible sigmoidoscopy (FS) differs to the current faecal occult blood (FOB) test, which relies on people sending off stool samples.
With the new technology, a thin, bendy tube is inserted a short way into the rectum and lower bowel, enabling a doctor to look at the wall of the bowel. He or she can then remove any small growths known as polyps, which have the potential to develop into bowel cancer.
By removing these growths at an early stage, many more lives could be saved before the disease gets a chance to take hold. Across the UK, around 40,000 people develop bowel cancer each year and more than 16,000 die from it.
Data shows that one-off FS screening for bowel cancer in men and women aged 55 to 64 could reduce the incidence of bowel cancer by 33% and death rates by 43%.
It is unclear exactly how long it will take for the NHS to roll out the new screening programme.
Currently, people aged 60 to 69 are invited to send off stool samples as part of the FOB programme, which is being extended to include people up to the age of 74.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said the FS test will run alongside the FOB test, adding: "We will pilot inviting men and women aged around 55 for FS. They will then be invited to complete FOB kits every two years from age 60, as is currently available."
Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, said: "Recent trial results of this method of detecting and removing polyps before they develop into bowel cancer can truly be called a breakthrough. We believe this method will save thousands of lives every year once fully rolled out."