Bowel cancer home test kit scheme announced

The government has announced plans to offer home testing kits for bowel cancer to people in their sixties in England.

Under the new scheme, a £37.5 million national bowel cancer screening programme will be phased in from April 2006, giving men and women in their sixties the opportunity to be screened for the disease every two years.

Home testing kits will be sent to around two million people in the target group each year to enable them to do the test at home. The kit would then be sent back to a laboratory, where it would be analysed.

The scheme, one of the first of its kind in Europe, aims to help tackle bowel cancer, which is the second largest cause of cancer deaths in the UK each year. 30,000 new cases are identified each year and over 16,000 people died from the disease in 2003.

Announcing the scheme, Health Minister Rosie Winterton said: “Although bowel cancer affects more than one in 20 people in their lifetime, of those who get the disease, 90% survive if it is caught early.

“Because of the nature of the disease, people can feel uncomfortable talking about it, let alone coping with the symptoms. That is why the privacy and dignity that the home testing kits afford will help us better tackle the disease.”

The new screening programme will be phased in gradually over a three-year period. It is estimated that around 25% of England will covered by the scheme by the end of 2006/7, with a further 25% to follow in 2007/8 and the final 50% beginning in 2008/9.

Five programme hubs, including testing laboratories, will be set up for analysing the kits. Strategic Health Authorities will bid to provide the first wave of local screening centres.

The announcement of the scheme has been welcomed by a number of cancer charities. Neil Brookes, Chief Executive at Colon Cancer Concern (CCC), said: “The programme will help to raise awareness of bowel cancer; encourage people to be more pro-active in combating it; lead to earlier diagnosis of the disease; and, ultimately, help to reduce deaths.”

Lynn Faulds-Wood of Lynn’s Bowel Cancer Campaign and Chairman of the European Cancer Patient Coalition said: “I survived advanced bowel cancer and I’ve been investigating how to help save lives from bowel cancer for years. Screening, in my opinion, is the best way and I am delighted that the Department of Health is launching its bowel cancer-screening programme. It will prevent thousands of people from dying of this common cancer over the years.”


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