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Bowel Cancer Awareness Month: how a simple test saves lives

April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. In this blog, Jayne Thomas, regional programme manager for the Hampshire bowel cancer screening programme, explains why it’s so important to take part in screening.

Someone is diagnosed with bowel cancer every 15 minutes in the UK. More than 90% of cases can be treated successfully if diagnosed early, so early detection is absolutely crucial.

That’s why the bowel cancer screening programme is so important. Everyone who’s between the ages of 60 and 74 and registered with a GP is invited to participate every two years. A testing kit is sent to your home, and all you have to do is follow the instructions, take a few samples of your bowel movements and post the kit back in the envelope provided. Around 2% of people get an abnormal result and are invited for further tests, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have bowel cancer.

The Hampshire bowel cancer screening programme is provided by University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust (UHS) and Hampshire Hospitals Foundation Trust (HHFT). Our team celebrated the service's tenth anniversary last year, and we’re proud of our uptake numbers: at last count, 69% of people completed their tests and returned them, 17% higher than the national target. In its 11 years in Hampshire, the screening programme has detected 723 cancers, giving the patients the best possible chance of recovery.

Looking ahead, we’re getting ready to change the kind of test we use in the screening. The faecal immunochemical test (FIT) has been proven to be more accurate and easier for people to complete than the current test. We’re hoping that switching to this test, which only requires one tiny sample and can detect cancers earlier and more reliably, will encourage people who haven’t taken part in the past to start doing so.

We’re also working to improve access to bowel cancer screening for people who might need extra support to complete the test, for instance patients with learning disabilities, homeless people and the prison population.

If you’d like to find out more about bowel cancer screening in Hampshire, I recommend visiting the NHS website.