Cancer: NHS to send out home testing kits for one of the UK’s deadliest cancers – symptoms

Chris Evans discusses bowel cancer and Deborah James' death

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In a statement released on Tuesday, the NHS said it was sending out home testing kits which could detect the early signs of bowel cancer to all 58 year olds in the UK.

All 58-year-olds will be sent what is known as a Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT); this kit can detect the early signs of bowel cancer through recording the presence of blood in a small sample of poo.

There are around 830,000 people who are aged 58 in the UK. With many of them based in London – the part of the country with the lowest uptake for screenings, the aim will be to spot bowel cancer cases sooner.

In common with other cancers, the sooner bowel cancer is diagnosed (at an early stage) the more effective treatment will be.

Sending out test kits to 58-year-olds is the latest in a campaign targeting those over the age of 50 and forms part of the NHS Long Term Plan to lower the age of those eligible for home testing kits.

Speaking about screening tests, Professor Peter Johnson, the National Clinical Director for Cancer said: “We are expanding the bowel cancer screening programme in a phased approach to make sure we can diagnose bowel cancer as early as possible, often before symptoms appear – potentially saving thousands of lives with a simple and convenient test.

“I would encourage anyone who is sent a kit to return their tests as quickly as you can, because this can detect early signs of bowel cancer and ensure that anyone affected can get treatment for the disease sooner, while making it more accessible for people, including vulnerable groups, to do at home.”

Meanwhile, Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay added: “The FIT kit offers people a chance to quickly and safely test for bowel cancer at home, and this expansion of the screening programme will ensure more cases are detected earlier.”

Speaking about the test kits, Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK, Genevieve Edwards commented: “This is a step in the right direction towards screening from 50, which we’ve long campaigned for.

“Screening is one of the best ways to diagnose bowel cancer early, or in some cases prevent it from developing in the first place, and so inviting more people to take part is welcomed.

“Offering the home test to more people is just one of the ways to improve bowel screening, however, the biggest barrier to improving early diagnosis, and offering a world-class screening programme, is the long-standing workforce shortage in endoscopy and pathology services.”

Given the severity of bowel cancer, it is essential to know the symptoms and what to look out for; fortunately, the symptoms it causes are quite distinctive.

The main symptoms of bowel cancer which can arise are:
• A persistent change in bowel habit
• Blood in the poor without symptoms of piles
• Abdominal pain, discomfort, or bloating always brought on by eating.
• Unexplained weight loss
• Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
• A pain or lump in the tummy.

Although the symptoms of bowel cancer are easy to spot, it is important to note that the presence of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean someone has the condition.

Bowel Cancer UK says: “It’s important to know that most people with these symptoms don’t have bowel cancer. Other health problems can cause similar symptoms. But if you have any of these, or if things just don’t feel right, go to see your GP.”

Bowel cancer awareness has been given a substantial boost in recent years after the work and recent death of Dame Deborah James, who passed away from the disease in June.

Such is the impact of James’ work that the number of people coming forward for bowel cancer screenings has risen sharply. Furthermore, the supermarket M&S now lists symptoms of bowel cancer on its loo roll.

Dame Deborah was diagnosed with bowel cancer in the middle of the 2010s when she was a deputy head teacher.

Leaving her job, she became a columnist writing about her experiences of cancer treatment and tried to show someone could still live whilst being treated for cancer.

Earlier this year she announced she had entered end of life care and set up the Bowelbabe fund to raise money for cancer research; the fund has now reached £7.4 million.

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