Bowel cancer survivor urges others to take home test as screening age lowered to 55 in Wales

  • Video report by ITV Wales Health Reporter Katie Fenton

People in Wales aged 55-57 will be able to access bowel cancer screening tests at home for the first time.

It means 172,000 more people in Wales can receive the easy-to-use kits that test for the early stages of bowel cancer.

More than 2,500 people were diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2019, with screening playing an important role in detecting cancer earlier.

The move by the Welsh Government is part of a phased approach, aimed at lowering the screening age to 50 by October 2024.

Ross Williams from Abergavenny is one person whose life was saved by these testing kits.

Taking a test in July 2021, Ross explained: "They sent me one of these bowel screening kits and at that time I had no symptoms so I wasn't expecting anything to be a problem and then after doing the kit and sending it off, which was very easy to do and simple, I had a letter back to say there was an anomaly so they wanted me to do some further checks.

"I went and had a colonoscopy, and that's when the cancer was discovered in the colon."

The bowel cancer screening age is to be lowered to 55 in Wales. Credit: PA

Whilst the diagnosis came as a shock, it was spotted early. Ross was cancer free six months later after a successful operation.

He added: "Stage 2 is easily sorted but if it had been left it could've developed into a much more serious illness, it could've spread to other parts of the body, and even then it's still very treatable, but the prognosis is not as good as where it was with me, so I'm very thankful that I did the screening at that point in time."

"Put it in an envelope and send it back, and that takes 30 seconds, so that 30 seconds could save your life so I really do encourage people to do it."

At the time Ross took his test, people aged between 58 and 74 were eligible for the home kits.

Now, people who are aged 55, 56 and 57 are being invited for screenings from Wednesday 5 October and they are to receive their home testing kits in the post. The programme is set to be rolled out to the newly eligible age group over the next 12 months.

It's hoped to be lowered again to 50-years-old by October 2024.

Speaking to ITV Wales, Gerald Mc Mahon from Bowel Cancer UK said more needs to be done.

"There's an awful lot that we need to see going forward around the workforce that's in place, so we need to put in place the changes that are required to hire more staff within endoscopy, within pathology, services that are real key components within the bowel screening programme and also within bowel cancer services as a whole."

The Welsh Government has spent £16 million on the scheme which has included the introduction of the new, easier to use, FIT (Faecal Immunochemical Test) at home testing kit.

They have helped improve screening uptake to 65% and have helped in sensitively detecting those at risk of bowel cancer. The lowering of the screening age is based on the recommendation by the UK National Screening Committee.

Wales' Minister for Health and Social Services, Eluned Morgan has said: "It is great to see the next phase of our plan to widen access to bowel cancer screening come into effect.

"This move will help us to identity more bowel cancer cases early and support improvement in survival rates.

"I'm also pleased to see that more people are taking part in the programme and that the uptake rate now meets the expected standard.

"In future, we plan to continue to optimise the programme by lowering the age range to 50 and increasing the sensitivity of the test until we come into line with UK recommendations."

Genevieve Edwards, Chief Executive at Bowel Cancer UK said: "This is a step in the right direction towards screening from 50 in Wales, which we've long campaigned for.

"Screening is one of the best ways to diagnose bowel cancer early, or in some cases prevent it from developing in the first place, and so inviting more people to take part is welcomed.

"Offering the home test to more people is just one of the ways to improve bowel screening, however, the biggest barrier to improving early diagnosis, and offering a world-class screening programme, is the long-standing workforce shortage in endoscopy and pathology services.

"We now urgently need to address this through a comprehensive workforce plan that can support the bowel cancer screening programme in Wales to achieve its full potential."

Dr Sharon Hillier, Director of the Screening Division at Public Health Wales, said: "Early detection is so important as at least 9 out of 10 people will survive bowel cancer if it's found and treated early.

"Bowel screening also detects and removes pre-cancerous polyps that if left in the bowel could develop into cancer.

"The invitation and test kit will be arriving via post to those who are eligible over the next 12 months. The test kit is easy to complete and to send to our laboratory for analysis.

"I would urge everyone who receives an invitation to take up their offer as it could save their life."