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NHS Campaign Urges People to Screen for Bowel Cancer

In a drive to increase home bowel cancer screening the NHS is asking people to "Put it by the loo. Don’t put it off".

Nearly 43,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in the UK, and it is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, and the second biggest cancer killer. Over 16,500 people die from the disease each year, according to Cancer Research UK (CRUK), which equates to more than 45 people per day. 

"Screening is vital in helping the NHS detect bowel cancer at the earliest stage, when it is more likely to be successfully treated," emphasised NHS England, which wants more people to take up the opportunity of home testing.

"The chances of surviving bowel cancer are much higher when it's found at an early stage," CRUK pointed out.

"Screening is one of the best ways to diagnose bowel cancer early, or in some cases prevent it from developing in the first place, so we want more people to do it, and stop this disease in its tracks," said NHS Director of Vaccinations and Screening, Steve Russell.

Quicker to Use

People aged 60-74 years who are registered with a GP practice and live in England are automatically sent a FIT kit every 2 years. As part of plans to lower the age of people that receive the test to age 50 by 2025, 56-year-olds are sent the test kit, and it is currently being rolled out to 58-year-olds.

Each month, the NHS posts out more than half a million free Faecal Immunochemical Test kits (FIT) to people to use in the privacy of their homes. 

NHS England highlighted that the FIT kit is "quicker to use" than the previous bowel cancer screening home screening kit, and also "generates fewer false positives, and finds more polyps", highlighted NHS England.

However, despite the proportion of people choosing to participate in bowel screening having increased to 70.3% – which NHS England said was "the highest on record" – almost a third (30%) of people are not returning their test kit.

As part of the new, "first-of-a-kind" NHS campaign, people in England who have been sent a bowel cancer home screening kit are being encouraged to "use it and return it". The campaign message – which will feature across TV, radio, video on demand, and social media – aims to increase uptake of the kit to ensure more people are diagnosed with bowel cancer at the earliest stage, when they're "nine times" more likely to survive, stressed NHS England.

Mr Russell explained that the FIT kit offers eligible people a chance "quickly and safely to complete a test for bowel cancer at home", to ensure that more cases are detected earlier.

One Tiny Sample

Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information at CRUK, expressed hope that the new campaign would help highlight the "importance" of the bowel cancer screening programme and how "easy" the test is to do. "The test, for people without symptoms, now only requires one tiny sample of poo," she explained, "and can spot hidden traces of blood that could be a sign of cancer". She added that the charity recommended "people complete the kit".

People should not be "prudish about poo", reassured the NHS, having recognised that people often find it a strain to talk about it "due to embarrassment". 

National Clinical Director for Cancer, Professor Peter Johnson, praised the "fantastic response" to previous cancer awareness campaigns, with "record levels" of people coming forward for cancer checks. He urged: "Don’t die of embarrassment."

The campaign will highlight how "quick and convenient" it is to complete the test, with the advert showing a man "joyfully running around his house with toilet roll" before completing the test, NHS England remarked.

"If you're sent the kit, help yourself by remembering to complete it. Put it by the loo. Don’t put it off," pushed Mr Russell.

Genevieve Edwards, chief executive at Bowel Cancer UK, spelled out that: "Quite simply, bowel cancer screening could save your life and we would encourage everyone to complete the test when they receive it."