Welsh government to introduce improved screening tests for cervical and bowel cancers

Cancer Research UK

The Welsh government has announced “hugely positive” changes to its screening programmes for both cervical and bowel cancer.

From April 2017 a pilot programme will switch the order of the tests used for cervical screening. 

“Bowel and cervical screening programmes are crucial in reducing both cancer cases and deaths”  Sara Bainbridge, Cancer Research UK

This will see the test that detects high risk forms of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which is the main cause of cervical cancer, offered first. A full roll-out is expected to start in 2018/19.

For bowel cancer, the faecal Immunochemical test (FIT), which can be more accurate than the current test, will be introduced during 2018/19.

Sara Bainbridge, policy manager at Cancer Research UK, said both changes are “hugely positive”.

In Wales women aged 25-64 are invited for a test to detect abnormal cells that may develop into cervical cancer.

The test involves taking a sample of cells from the cervix and then assessing them under a microscope. But in the future samples will be first screened for HPV, which causes almost all cases of cervical cancer. 

“Bowel and cervical screening programmes are crucial in reducing both cancer cases and deaths, and research shows that these changes will make them even more effective,” said Bainbridge.

The new bowel cancer test is expected to increase the number of people taking part in the screening programme as it only requires one poo sample to be collected, compared to 3 samples from separate days for the old test.

Bowel screening is a great way to diagnose bowel cancer early. Early diagnosis is crucial as patients diagnosed with bowel cancer at the earliest stage have a better than 90% chance of surviving the disease for at least 5 years. For those diagnosed at the latest stage this drops to just 7%.

“Introducing the new screening tests in Wales could save more lives by detecting disease early when it is more likely to be treated successfully,” Bainbridge added. 

The UK National Screening Committee has already recommended the use of FIT, and Scotland has committed to introducing the new test this year, with England also starting in 2018.

There is considerable variation in participation levels in bowel screening across the country, and the UK average is only around 56%.