detecting bowel cancer

NHS England is taking a significant step towards early detection of bowel cancer by extending FIT tests to adults aged 54 and over. This expansion from those aged between 56 and 74, means an additional 830,000 people will now be eligible for the test, boosting early detection efforts.

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, with a concerning rise in numbers among the under-60s. It is hoped that more lives will be saved through these tests, that are the first step to a confirmed diagnosis, and treatment.

Here, we’ll explore the details of this important initiative and explain why early detection is so crucial in bowel cancer cases.

Rollout of FIT tests to begin in London

The phased rollout of FIT tests will begin in London, a region with historically low uptake rates for bowel cancer screening.

Those who are eligible, now including patients aged 54 and over, will receive an invitation letter along with a home screening kit. This kit comes with clear instructions and prepaid return packaging, making the process quick, convenient and accessible.

Once the test is completed and sent back, patients will receive their results and, if necessary, information about further tests. This initiative aims to improve participation in bowel cancer screening and detect cases much earlier. It could potentially save thousands of lives, providing hope for those who develop cancer at an earlier age.

What is a FIT Test?

The Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) is a screening tool for bowel cancer. It works by detecting hidden blood in stool samples, which can be a common sign of the disease.

The test is non-invasive and can be done at home, making it a simple yet effective way to screen for early signs of cancer. Patients collect a small sample of their stool using the kit provided and mail it back for analysis. Testing is done every two years, ensuring that any changes are picked up early.

The FIT test is designed to be sensitive and specific, targeting human haemoglobin protein which is found in blood, and this increases its accuracy in detecting potential bowel cancer.

Most people that have a FIT test will not have bowel cancer. If blood is detected in the test sample, a colonoscopy may be organised to investigate things further. But this still doesn’t necessarily mean that you have bowel cancer, and can be caused by something else, such as haemorrhoids.

The importance of early testing

Regular, early testing for bowel cancer is vital because it significantly increases the chances of successful treatment. Bowel cancer is more treatable when caught at an early stage, often before symptoms are noticeable.
The expansion of the FIT test to a younger age group reflects the understanding that early intervention is key in battling this deadly disease.

If you’re concerned about bowel cancer because of a family history or symptoms, or if you’ve completed a FIT test and require a colonoscopy, it can be helpful to discuss your options with a specialist. Book an appointment with Dr Jamie Murphy by calling 020 3423 7054 or emailing jmurphymedsec@ccf.org