Eluned Morgan MS, Minister for Health and Social Services
I am committed to improving cancer outcomes in Wales. One of the best ways to do this is to detect and diagnose cancer at an earlier stage, when there are potentially more treatment options. Screening is one of the ways we can detect cancer earlier.
Bowel Screening Wales is one of our national screening programmes and currently offers screening every two years to men and women aged 60 to 74.
In 2018, the UK National Screening Committee (UKNSC) recommended replacing the guaiac faecal occult blood test (gFOBt), which was used by the screening programme with the new and more accurate faecal immunochemical testing (FIT), to be provided to men and women aged 50 to 74.
At this time, we announced a National Endoscopy Action Plan, driven in part by the need to improve access to colonoscopy to enable the bowel screening programme to meet the UKNSC’s recommendations.
We introduced the new screening test and decided to gradually optimise the screening programme in both age range and test sensitivity. In 2019, Public Health Wales replaced the existing gFOB test with FIT. This easier-to-use test has improved uptake of screening – the programme is now consistently exceeding the 60% uptake standard.
The next stage of the optimisation programme will start today as men and women aged 58 and 59 are invited to undertake bowel cancer screening.
Making the test available to younger people who may be at risk of developing bowel cancer will help us identify those people who need preventative treatment – this involves pre-cancerous polyps being removed – and those with early-stage colorectal cancer but have no symptoms of the disease.
We will continue to expand the bowel screening programme to people aged 50 and to increase the test sensitivity to 80ug/g. We will do this in a phased and planned manner, according to colonoscopy capacity. It is essential that anyone with a positive screening test is able to access the colonoscopy in a timely way.
As the programme is fully optimised, many more bowel cancers will be identified at earlier stages, when the disease can be treated more easily. This will help to improve outcomes for people.
I encourage everyone who is eligible to make an informed choice to take part in bowel cancer screening.