FOR the first time people in their 50s in England are being invited for NHS tests to check for the earliest signs of bowel cancer.
It marks a huge change in the NHS screening programme after The Sun's No Time 2 Lose campaign called on the Government to lower the age limit for the life-saving stool tests.
The NHS has three cancer screening programmes, to detect breast, bowel and cervical forms of the disease.
But up until this year, bowel cancer screening in England began at 60, while in Scotland tests were sent out to people on their 50th birthday.
Bowel cancer is the second deadliest form of the disease in the UK, claiming 16,000 lives every year.
But, caught early it can be cured – and screening is a vital part in the early diagnosis puzzle.
The risk of developing bowel cancer drastically increases once you turn 50.
And just four months after The Sun's campaign launched in April 2018, the then health secretary Matt Hancock agreed to lower the screening age from 60 to 50 – a move that could save thousands of lives each year.
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It's not the only Sun campaign to have had success this year with multiple wins.
In October, The Sun launched its 'Menopause Matters' campaign – to make HRT free to all women.
On October 29 the Government backed a "menopause revolution" as ministers pledged to cut the cost of repeat prescriptions of HRT.
The Sun also sought victory with our 'Had Our Fill' campaign this year.
In November, the regulator announced that adverts for cosmetic surgeries are no longer allowed to target teenagers.
Companies will no longer be able to advertise products such as lip and face fillers, Botox, boob and nose jobs to under-18s.
Bowel cancer patient and Sun columnist, Deborah James helped spearhead the No Time 2 Lose campaign, alongside Lauren Backler who lost her mum Fiona to the disease at 55.
Deborah, 39, told The Sun: "Three years after the Government agreed to lower the screening age it is incredible to know people in their 50s are finally being invited for tests.
"Early diagnosis really does save lives, and screening is one of the best ways to detect the earliest changes that could end up developing into bowel cancer.
"Now we have screening for people in their 50s it is vital people take up their invites and get tested.
"If you get an invite in the post, don't delay just do it. Yes it is a poo sample, but it takes a few minutes and it's a test that could save your life."
Lauren added: "I am just absolutely over the moon that bowel cancer screening in the 50s has finally started to be implemented.
"The loss of my beautiful mum deeply affects our family every single day, and now I hope others won't have to lose a family member in the way we did."
As part of the rollout, the first tests were sent to 56-year-olds in May.
It is expected that the NHS will invite everyone else between the ages of 50-60 by 2025.
The NHS is phasing the rollout in order to make sure the programme is safe and effective.
Dr Lisa Wilde, Director of Research and External Affairs at Bowel Cancer UK said: “It’s fantastic news that people aged 56 are now being sent bowel cancer screening tests.
"The age range will continue to be lowered gradually to 50 over the next few years which is a vital step forward to saving more lives as screening is one of the best ways to diagnose bowel cancer early when it is easier to treat."
But, she warned the more people who are sent screening tests, the greater the demand for ongoing tests, treatment and care will be.
If a screening test detects any worrying changes, a patient is then referred for further tests, including colonoscopy – where a camera is inserted into the bowel to look for tumours.
But, the charity warns major staff shortages in endoscopy and pathology services could stall the rollout – as the NHS struggles to process the higher volume of tests.
The NHS said this year, everyone aged 56 will be eligible for bowel cancer screening.
NHS guidance states: "Everyone aged 60 to 74 who is registered with a GP and lives in England is automatically sent a bowel cancer screening kit every 2 years. The programme is expanding to include 56 year olds in 2021."
Since April the NHS has been gradually reducing the age range for bowel screening – meaning some people are now eligible for the life-saving tests.
The Welsh Gov has also committed to lowering the age to 50, but as of yet it has not set out a timeline.
KNOW THE SIGNS: How to spot bowel cancer
Here are the symptoms of bowel cancer that you need to look out for
- Bleeding when you poo or from your bum
- Changes in loo habits
- Weight loss
- Feeling tired
- Pain or lump in stomach or back passage
What is the screening process?
Catching bowel cancer early could save thousands of lives and this is why screening is key.
You use a home test kit, called a faecal immunochemical test (FIT).
This collects a small sample of poo and then it is sent to a lab for testing and is checked for tiny amounts of blood.
The NHS says: "Blood can be a sign of polyps or bowel cancer. Polyps are growths in the bowel. They are not cancer, but may turn into cancer over time."
If anything unusual is detected then you might be asked to have further tests.
You should go to your GP if you experience any symptoms of bowel cancer – no matter what age you are.
An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS has already introduced an improved test for bowel screening across the country as part of NHS Long Term Plan ambitions to catch more cancers at an earlier stage and despite the pandemic
“Bowel cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer and regular screening can help find it at an early stage, when it's easier to treat – anyone who is worried about a family history of bowel cancer or has any symptoms should speak to their GP for advice.”
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