Beating bowel cancer together

Bowel cancer screening narrowly misses target

Friday 1 February 2019

None of the three main health screening programmes in England - bowel, breast or cervical - met their targets last year, according to a report by the National Audit Office (NAO). Although bowel screening performed best, narrowly missing its 60% target.

The NAO investigated the four screening programmes that are based on age – for bowel, breast and cervical cancer as well as abdominal aortic aneurysm screening – and found not one was meeting national targets for how many people should be screened. There was also huge variation in the percentage of people being screened depending on where they lived.

Some programmes are meeting a new “lower threshold” target – which is the minimum number of people the NHS says should be seen. However, the NAO said dated IT systems, which still have not been replaced, meant concerns remain that people may miss out on cancer screening invitations. 

Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK, says: “The National Audit Office reports that bowel screening only narrowly misses the national standard target for people taking part. However it also notes that this is not a true reflection of the wider picture. We have been deeply concerned, for many years by this huge variation in screening uptake and reach between local areas, with some parts in England only screening 30-44% of the eligible population. We know that some variation can be attributed to certain groups of people being less likely to take part in screening than others, such as those living in deprived areas. It is vital that more is done to reduce this inequality, after all screening is the best way to be diagnosed with bowel cancer early, when it is more treatable and curable.

“The introduction of the new Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) to the screening programme will be a game changer for bowel cancer. Not only has it been proven to increase uptake across all socio-economic groups and in people who have never taken part in the test before, it also has the potential to detect more early stage cancers or to prevent it all together. However, implementation is already severely delayed due to the lack of colonoscopy and pathology capacity and we urge the Government to finally address this so FIT can be fully rolled out successfully and sustainably.”



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