Bowel Cancer Screening Programme: a vital step towards early detection in the UK

Bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the UK, affecting both men and women.

Bowel cancer screening is offered every two years to men and women aged 56 to 74. People older than this can ask for a screening kit every two years by calling the free helpline on 0800 707 60 60.

In England, the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme is one of the five national population screening programmes aimed at reducing the risk of dying from bowel cancer by at least 25%. The programme comprises five Screening Hubs and 64 Screening Centres.

Gateshead Health hosts the North East Bowel Cancer Screening Programme (NE BCSP) the most northerly of the five national screening hubs. It is part of Pathology Services based at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH). The NE BCSP provides screening support for a registered population of approximately 8.5 million people ranging from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Hull in East Yorkshire.

Caroline Addison, Director of the North East Bowel Cancer Screening Hub

The NE BCSP offers screening services, including managing invitations and telephone enquiries via the national helpline (0800 707 60 60), processing faecal immunochemical tests (FIT), issuing results, and arranging hospital appointments.

The programme is expanding and is currently available to everyone aged 56-74 years of age. The programme will be available to 54-year-olds by the end of March 2024 and then to 50 and 52-year-olds by the end of March 2025.

In 2020, a decision was made to extend the age range to 50, commencing with 56-year-olds in April 2020. The full rollout to 50 is expected to take four years.

Since 2007, the NE BCSP has issued and tested bowel screening tests on the QEH site, starting with Faecal Occult Blood card tests (FOBt) and then switching to the Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) in June 2019.

The introduction of the FIT marked a significant milestone in developing the screening programme. The new test offers greater specificity and sensitivity in detecting human blood in stool samples, leading to a more substantial detection of adenomas and early cancers. Screening Centres provide Specialist Screening Practitioner (SSP) clinics and colonoscopy services for the screening programme.

The NE BCSP hub invites, on average, 4-5000 people per day to take part in screening and receives, on average, 3-3500 kits a day for testing.

Finding blood in a patient’s stool sample does not mean the patient has cancer. There are other potential causes of blood in the poo, such as;

– Haemorrhoids (piles)
– Polyps (growths in the bowel which may turn into cancer)

The only way to know is to first engage with the screening program and then attend further investigations if the test detects any blood.

The North East hub, based at Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust, has its mail room for sending invitations, results and reminder letters. The hub is only one of two in England with mailroom facilities. This allows the team to process other letters for the trust; for example, the hub also sends out letters for abdominal aortic aneurysm screening (AAA) and breast screening programs along with general trust letters. On average, the hub sends out around 15,000 letters a day.

Caroline Addison, Director of the North East Bowel Cancer Screening Hub said:

We aim to provide the highest quality service possible, and our ability to do this is entirely down to the hardworking team we have at Gateshead Health. The team comprises multi-skilled biomedical professionals who understand the importance of screening and that this national programme could save a person’s life. We are proud to work for the NHS, provide Bowel Cancer screening services, and be part of the pathology team here at Gateshead Health.

Caroline Addison, Director of the North East Bowel Cancer Screening Hub

In conclusion, the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme is an essential national population screening programme that aims to prevent and detect bowel cancer early. The NE BCSP is committed to providing screening services that are efficient, effective, and accessible to everyone in its registered population.

Taking part in the NHS bowel cancer screening programme significantly reduces the risk of dying from bowel cancer. The aim is to detect bowel cancer earlier when it is more treatable.

If you are eligible for bowel cancer screening, it is essential to take the test as it can save your life.