The charity Beating Bowel Cancer is calling on MPs to support Early Day Motion 617, tabled by Stephen Lloyd MP (Liberal Democrat, Eastbourne) and co-sponsored by Bob Blackman (Conservative, Harrow East), Sir Peter Bottomley (Conservative, Worthing West), Jim Cunningham (Labour, Coventry South), Mary Glindon (Labour, North Tyneside) and Christine Jardine (Liberal Democrat, Edinburgh West).
Download the press release: Beating Bowel Cancer support for EDM 617 Bowel Screening
The Motion calls on the Government to acknowledge that 50 is the internationally-recognised optimal age for bowel screening to commence and to take steps to lower the screening age in England, Wales and Northern Ireland from 60 to 50 to bring policy into line with Scotland.
Mr Lloyd is the constituency MP of Lauren Backler, a driving force in the campaign to standardise the screening age at 50. Following the death of her mother at the age of 56, Lauren instigated a petition on change.org which has so far attracted a remarkable 388,000+ signatures, placing it among the most successful change.org petitions of all time.
Beating Bowel Cancer has campaigned throughout 2017 for this change, stating that some eight million 50-59 year olds are currently being denied the access to screening that their counterparts in Scotland enjoy. Bowel cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer, claiming 16,000 lives each year. Of the 41,000 cases diagnosed annually, more than one in ten is in the 50-59 age cohort, underlining the urgency of extending screening to this group.
Caught early, bowel cancer is eminently treatable, with survival rates for patients diagnosed at stage 1 typically 97%, falling to just 7% for a stage 4 diagnosis. The single most effective route to early diagnosis is screening, yet the national screening programmes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland lag far behind those for breast screening (the third most common cancer killer, claiming 11,500 lives per year) and cervical screening (cancer of the cervix is 20th on the list, with 890 deaths annually).
Dr Andrew Renehan, Professor of Cancer Studies and Surgery at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust and a member of Beating Bowel Cancer’s Medical Board, says, “The evidence, including randomised trials in the UK, indicating the health gain from bowel cancer screening is overwhelming. Further, the evidence from Scotland, where bowel cancer screening is offered from 50 to 69 years, is that there is a 27% reduction in bowel cancer mortality among those individuals who take up screening.”
Interim chief executive at Beating Bowel Cancer Judith Brodie says, “The fact that three out of four UK nations have yet to adopt 50, recognised as the optimum age by public health bodies worldwide – including the Council of the European Union and the UK’s own Department of Health – as far back as 2003, is disappointing in this context. Bowel cancer is often perceived as an older person’s disease and while it’s true that the majority of cases occur in the over 50s, recent evidence indicates a worrying increase in incidence among younger age groups, with some studies even suggesting that screening should commence at 45.
“Of course we acknowledge that there are practicalities associated with reducing the screening age: foremost among these is the well-documented issue of endoscopy capacity. However, we contend that NICE’s recent guidance that quantitative faecal immunochemical (FIT) tests should guide referral for colorectal cancer in primary care and the forthcoming introduction of FIT to replace the FOB test currently used in the screening programme both have the potential to focus endoscopy capacity to best effect.
“Cost pressures are often assumed to be the reason for not extending the programme, but this doesn’t acknowledge the savings to the NHS that would be made by catching more cancers early: on average, four early stage cases can be treated at the same cost as a single late stage diagnosis.”
Concludes Brodie, “Bowel cancer needs to be addressed on multiple fronts: figures released by Public Health England recently showed that while screening uptake is improving marginally, at 59% participation, it still lags far behind other national screening programmes – an issue that we are addressing via separate initiatives. Nonetheless, we believe we now have the best opportunity in a decade to address the mortality rates for bowel cancer and we urge Members of Parliament from across the UK to help make this change: signing Early Day Motion 617 is a very tangible acknowledgement of support for screening at 50.”