What you need to know about bowel cancer screening – that could save your life

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If you are aged between 60 and 74 or you are 56-years-old, you may soon receive a package from the NHS through your letterbox that could save your life. It contains a faecal immunochemical test (FIT test), which is part of the NHS bowel cancer screening programme. 

As April is Bowel Cancer Awareness month, there is never a better time to take the simple test to check on your health. The good news is that bowel cancer is treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early.

Cancer Clinical Lead for Wandsworth and Macmillan GP, Dr Maria Wallace, said: “We are encouraging everyone to do the FIT test, which looks for tiny traces of blood in your poo. You do the simple test at home. The kit contains instructions of what to do including a prepaid envelope to send the poo sample to the bowel cancer screening hub for processing. You should get the results within a few weeks.  If you have mislaid the kit or you are older than 74 and would like to have the test, you can call 0800 707 60 60 and one will be sent to you.”

Early diagnosis saves lives

Tests are analysed at the Bowel Cancer Screening Hub based in St Mark’s Hospital, London. If a patient receives an abnormal result, they will be referred to their local bowel cancer screening centre for further investigations. 

In South West London, our local bowel cancer screening centre is based at St George’s Hospital.  Lisa-Lyna Ofosu-Asare, who is the Health Improvement Specialist there, said: “We know that if bowel cancer is detected earlier, your chance of survival is over 90% but it drops significantly, to around 43%, when it’s diagnosed in later stages, so do not delay in returning the test which is much easier now with just one sample.”

Lisa-Lyna explained screening is for patients who do not have any symptoms. “If you do have any symptoms, it is important that you still go to your GP because you would need to do a different FIT sample. If you get an abnormal result, it doesn’t mean its cancer. What will happen is you’ll go for further investigations which could include a colonoscopy.”

What to look out for

Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo
  • A persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit 
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
  • A pain or lump in your tummy.

Originally the test was for the over 60s, but this has now been extended. In a phased approach, the programme will include people aged 50 to 74 by 2024.

If you need more information or support in different languages, you can contact the Bowel Cancer Screening Hub by calling 0800-707-6060.

Find out more here Bowel cancer screening – NHS (www.nhs.uk)