Bowel screening with flexible sigmoidoscopy given go ahead

Flexible sigmoidoscopy will now be offered to all men and women aged 55-59 as part of the national bowel cancer screening programme, a move charities say will save thousands of lives.

Endoscopic view of colonic polyps (Photograph: CNRI / Science Photo Library)
Endoscopic view of colonic polyps (Photograph: CNRI / Science Photo Library)

The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme said the procedure will be offered alongside the existing national screening programme for bowel cancer after a review of the evidence by the UK National Screening Committee (UKNSC).

The current national screening programme will also be extended so that all patients aged 60-75 will be offered a faecal occult blood (FOB) test. Previously, the upper age was 69.

Ministers and charities welcomed the decision, which supports DoH plans to give GPs greater access to diagnostic tests including flexible sigmoidoscopy.

The UKNSC review was supported by a three-month public consultation on the proposal.

Clinical and cost-effectiveness modelling showed that a one-off flexible sigmoidoscopy screening for bowel cancer in men and women aged 55 to 64 could reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer by 33% and mortality by 43% in those screened.

Professor Julietta Patnick, director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, said: ‘We welcome the UKNSC’s recommendation to introduce [flexible sigmoidoscopy] for bowel cancer screening; it will be an important addition to our existing bowel cancer screening programme.’

Paul Burstow, care services minister, said: ‘I am delighted that the UKNSC has given the go ahead to this new screening programme which will help save an additional 3,000 lives every year.’

Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said the charity was 'delighted' at the news.

'Recent trial results of this method of detecting and removing polyps before they develop into bowel cancer can truly be called a breakthrough. They showed that the number of cases of bowel cancer were cut by a third and deaths from the disease reduced by almost half (43 per cent) among those attending screening,' he said.

'We believe this method will save thousands of lives every year once fully rolled out.'

In December last year, health secretary Andrew Lansley launched a scheme to fund 15,000 extra cancer checks, backed by £25 million in 2011/12.

In addition, the £750m strategy, 'Improving Outcomes – A Strategy for Cancer', pledges to improve cancer survival rates for England to save an extra 5,000 lives by 2014/15.

Under the revised plans, GPs will be granted greater access to diagnostic scans, including flexible sigmoidoscopy.

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