Wales begins bowel screening programme

In collaboration with the Press Association

The NHS bowel screening programme has been rolled out across Wales this week to help detect people in the early stages of bowel cancer.

Many people are not diagnosed with bowel cancer until they are in the advanced stages of the disease, but treatment is likely to be more effective if the disease is picked up at an early stage.

However, there are often no symptoms at this stage, highlighting the importance of the new screening programme.

Men and women who live in Wales and are aged between 60 and 69 years will now start to receive home screening test kits which can be completed in private at home and posted for analysis.

The Welsh Assembly government has devoted £5.3 million to the programme this year and this figure will rise to £8.7 million by 2014/15, by which time the programme should be completely in place.

"We have set up a new laboratory and testing system which will be arranged by post," revealed Dr Hilary Fielder, director of Bowel Screening Wales.

"We have worked with every Trust in Wales to ensure the NHS has the capacity to manage the higher number of people referred to it for further testing.

"All this work has been completed to schedule within 18 months so that, wherever people live in Wales, they will have equal access to the screening."

Dr Fielder noted that bowel cancer is the third biggest killer in Wales. However, he revealed that many people - men in particular - find the subject embarrassing.

"To make bowel screening a success we need to break through the embarrassment," he claimed.

To assist with this, Bowel Screening Wales has launched a public awareness campaign including an information video which explains the importance of screening and encourages people to use their test kit.

Health minister Edwina Hart said that tackling cancer is one of the Welsh Assembly government's top priorities and pointed out that national cancer screening programmes save lives.

"The risk of developing bowel cancer increases with age, which is why initial roll-out of the programme is focusing on the age group most at risk," she explained.

"This new service is expected to reduce mortality from bowel cancer by 15 per cent in the screened population."

The screening programme will be extended to people aged up to 74 after the first two years and by 2015, all people living in Wales between the ages of 50 and 74 will receive a screening kit every two years.