Beating bowel cancer together

We take screening to Downing Street

As Prime Minister Theresa May prepares to celebrate her 60th birthday tomorrow (1st October), one thing she probably didn’t expect to receive was a giant reminder to complete her bowel cancer screening test when it arrives in the post. But that’s exactly what bowel cancer survivors and charities delivered to the Prime Minister to mark the fact she is now eligible for the NHS bowel cancer screening programme.

The screening test can detect blood in your poo, which can indicate bowel cancer before any symptoms present themselves. This saves lives because although bowel cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer, over 90% of cases can be successfully treated if caught early enough.

Unfortunately the uptake of the screening programme is low. Only 6 in 10 people who receive the test complete it. If this uptake was increased to a level more in line with breast and cervical cancer programmes (and 75% of people took part) another 1 million more people would be screened. [1]

Charities Beating Bowel Cancer and Bowel Cancer UK delivered a birthday card and a letter to the Prime Minister. In the letter, they appeal to her to help to raise awareness of the importance of screening in order to increase uptake of the test.

They were then joined by bowel cancer survivors, some of whom were successfully treated due to early detection through the screening programme, for a photograph with a giant replica of the test.

Mark Flannagan, Chief Executive of Beating Bowel Cancer, said “A lot of people are put off by the test because you have to collect a sample of poo on a stick but no-one, including the Prime Minister, should let that deter them because it takes minutes and could save their life.” 

“We recognise that a new simpler, less off-putting test is due to come in to practice, which is likely to result in an improved uptake rate but this is not due to be introduced before the end of 2017.  Between now and then, millions of people will become eligible for screening. Unless the importance of the test is promoted, the current uptake rate is unlikely to change and many of these people could be diagnosed too late.”

Deborah Alsina, Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK, said:  “Bowel cancer screening can both prevent and detect bowel cancer early so it is crucial that everyone, including the Prime Minister, who receives a kit uses and returns it. You carry out the simple test at home in private and it comes with clear step by step instructions. Those diagnosed through screening have a much a higher chance of survival - nearly everyone diagnosed through screening survives, as it is the most effective method of detecting bowel cancer early when it is more treatable. We urge the Prime Minister to set an example and lead the way in encouraging the eligible population in her constituency and the country to take up the screening test.”

 The Bowel Screening Programme involves everyone between the age of 60 and 74 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (starts from age 50 in Scotland) being sent a bowel cancer screening kit through the post every two years.

If you do not receive one through the post, contact the relevant helpline:

NHS bowel screening helpline in England: 0800 707 60 60; Scotland: 0800 0121 833; Wales: 0800 294 3370; Northern Ireland: 0800 015 2514.

If you’re over the age of screening you can still request a test by calling the helpline.

Whatever your age, if you’re experiencing symptoms of bowel cancer for three weeks or more, don’t wait for screening, visit your GP.


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