Bowel Screening Extension in Wales
Over the next two months, bowel cancer screening in Wales will be extended to include people in their seventies.
The extension marks the first of its kind to be implemented on the nationwide service since it was introduced in 2008, with plans afoot to drop the screening age to include those in their fifties.
People between 60 and 71 are currently being sent screening packs but, from next month, people aged up to 74 will be invited to take part. It is thought the scheme will begin to be rolled out to men and women in their fifties after 2013.
Hayley Heard, head of programme for Bowel Screening Wales, said: “We have started the process this month to get all people up to 71 screening before we begin to invite those up to 74.
“The original plan was always to move to screening people up to the age of 74. We’ve set up a working group to look at how we extend the programme to people from the age of 50.
“If we had decided to move down in age, before up, people who had already been screened would fall out of the programme.
“If we go up in age, then those who have already been screened will continue to be screened every two years.
“The safest way is to start with the age range at most risk of bowel cancer, then go upwards and then look at screening the younger population.”
Bowel cancer is one of the most common forms of the disease for both men and women in Wales – every year more than 2,000 people are diagnosed with the disease. Around 940 people die from bowel cancer in Wales every year.
Bowel cancer screening was introduced in Wales in 2008 with the aim of reducing the number of people dying from bowel cancer in Wales by 15% by 2020.
Until now, only people aged 60 to 69 have been invited to take part in the screening programme – test kits are sent through the post.
The screening detects microscopic traces of blood in stool samples, which could be an early sign of cancer. In these cases patients are referred for a colonoscopy, a procedure to look at the lining of the bowel.
Figures from Bowel Screening Wales show 425,000 people have been invited to take part between the launch in October 2008 and February 2011. The take-up rate currently stands at 56%.
Of those who have taken part in the screening programme, 425 people have been diagnosed with bowel cancer.
And a further 3,033 people have had benign tumours detected as a result of screening and follow-up tests.
Ms Heard added: “This is the first time men have been invited for cancer screening and I believe it has, on the whole, been embraced.
“Take-up is OK, although there is room for improvement, but we are slightly better than the screening programmes in England and Scotland.”
A note to the Public Health Wales NHS Trust board said endoscopy services and capacity has been established to accommodate the extra numbers taking part in the screening.
The all-Wales average waiting time for colonoscopy is currently 2.1 weeks.
Prime Endoscopy Bristol is a community endoscopy provider