New bowel cancer screening test a 'game-changer' for Northern Ireland
The Department of Health is introducing a better test for bowel cancer - to increase uptake rates and to detect more cancers earlier.
The Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) will replace the Faecal Occult Blood (FOB) test as the primary screening test for bowel cancer in the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme (BCSP) in Northern Ireland.
There are around 1,100 new cases of bowel cancer here every year, with more than 400 deaths.
The BCSP aims to pick up bowel cancer at an early stage, when it would be more treatable.
The new FIT bowel screening test will be introduced from early 2020.
Evidence has shown there is increased patient acceptability of the FIT test and increased uptake of screening will mean even more lives can be saved.
FIT requires a single faecal sample - whereas FOB requires three - and is more reliable.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: "The existing test for bowel cancer has proved hugely valuable in detecting cancer early and it is therefore essential that people invited to participate in the Northern Ireland Bowel Screening programme from age 60-74 continue to complete and return the test they receive in the post until the new test is available."
The news was last night welcomed by cancer charity Bowel Cancer UK, who have been calling for the FIT test to be made available in Northern Ireland.
Deborah Alsina MBE, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK, said: "We are delighted the Department of Health has finally committed to roll out the new, potentially more accurate Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) in Northern Ireland from 2020, meaning that all four nations of the UK will now have access to this lifesaving test.
"Bowel Cancer UK, in collaboration with other charities, have long called for this announcement as the new screening test is a game-changer for bowel cancer.
"It has the potential to detect thousands more cancers earlier, meaning we can save more lives from Northern Ireland's second biggest cancer killer."
The Department of Health has also announced that boys aged 12-13 in Northern Ireland are to be offered a vaccine to protect them against Human Papillomavirus (HPV) related cancers.
From September this year the HPV vaccine will be offered to all boys in year nine at school.
A very high proportion of all women under 25 have already taken up the opportunity to be vaccinated against HPV, and the intention is to protect boys through similar uptake rates.
This extended programme offers the opportunity to make some HPV-related diseases and cancers a thing of the past by building on the success of the programme for females.
The main HPV cancer-causing strains 16 and 18 have already been reduced by over 80%.
Dr McBride said: "We can now look forward to a future where we can be even more confident that we will reduce cervical cancer and other HPV related cancers that affect both men and women.
"This is an effective vaccine against a particularly harmful virus.
"I would encourage all parents to take up this offer and ensure their boys and girls are vaccinated."