News story

Bowel Cancer Awareness month backed by Public Health England

PHE is encouraging those who receive their ‘at home’ bowel cancer screening kits to fill them out and return them.

Elderly woman and man talking

Public Health England (PHE) is today (16 April 2014) supporting the charity, Beating Bowel Cancer’s ‘Lift the Lid’ day. This 1-day event aims to reduce the stigma around bowel cancer. The charity wants to start a national conversation about bowel cancer, and will be encouraging as many people as possible to open up and talk about the disease with family, friends, workmates or neighbours.

April is also Bowel Cancer Awareness month, and PHE is leading the way in reminding men and women, between the ages of 60 to 74, to complete their bowel cancer screening home test kits and return them.

As part of the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme, managed by PHE, men and women in England, who are registered with a GP, will receive a faecal occult blood (FOB) test through the post from the age of 60. They will then receive a kit every 2 years until their 75th birthday.

The importance of completing the FOB home test kit is highlighted by Maureen Williams from London, who was diagnosed with bowel cancer through the screening programme. Maureen said:

I hadn’t had a single symptom, so when the screening test came through the door I never thought it would show anything. But we do smear tests and mammograms, so what’s the difference? Anything that’s free and can keep you healthy is worth doing.

It turned out I did have bowel cancer, which was totally unexpected. But because it was found early when it was stage 1, I had an operation but didn’t need chemotherapy or radiotherapy. It’s more than 5 years since the operation and I’ve had no problems since.

Raising the awareness of bowel cancer screening through campaigns is fully endorsed by PHE.

Professor Julietta Patnick, Director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes said:

We are pleased to support Bowel Cancer Awareness Month and the ’Lift the Lid’ campaign, and to highlight the importance of bowel cancer screening.

The risk of bowel cancer increases with age, with over 80% of bowel cancers arising in people who are 60 or over. That is why bowel cancer screening is so crucial, as it can detect bowel cancer at an early stage in people with no symptoms, when treatment is likely to be more effective.

Therefore, we recommend that people aged 60 to 74 return their bowel screening test kit when invited to do so and attend our new bowel scope programme when invited.

Developments in bowel cancer screening include recently released figures from PHE, which show that nearly 37% of bowel scope screening centres in England are operational, clearly exceeding the 30% roll out target, set by the Department of Health.

Bowel scope screening, also known as flexible sigmoidoscopy, is a one-off test offered to men and women at the age of 55. This type of screening examines the lower part of the bowel – the part where most bowel cancers are found. The aim is to find any small growths, called polyps, which may develop into bowel cancer if left untreated.

Bowel scope screening will play a significant role in preventing bowel cancer, and is a complementary screening procedure to the current FOB home test kit.

Also this month (April), PHE has begun piloting the Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT), which can quantify the amount of blood found in a stool sample. It has a number of potential advantages over the current FOB test as it might be more accurate and more acceptable to use.

In addition, Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing for PHE, has a regular blog on the Huffington Post, which this month (April), focuses on bowel cancer.

Published 16 April 2014