Plea to make screening at 50 a General Election policy pledge

Posted on - 28/04/2017
Author: Communications Team

Following the announcement that a General Election will be held on the 8th June, Beating Bowel Cancer has sent the following letter to all parties:



From:   Judith Brodie, Interim Chief Executive, Beating Bowel Cancer

To:       All party leaders


General Election policy pledge: make bowel cancer screening at 50 standard across the UK


I am writing to ask if your party would be willing to make a manifesto commitment to screen bowel cancer patients from 50 – a change that would bring the rest of the UK in line with Scotland, and which would save thousands of lives as well as reduce costs for the NHS.


Bowel cancer is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer, claiming almost 16,000 lives each year – that’s over 4000 more than either breast cancer or prostate cancer. Yet an early diagnosis offers a 97% survival rate compared with just 7% at late stage.  Regular bowel cancer screening has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from bowel cancer by 16% in the population invited.


Achieving World Class Cancer Outcomes: a Strategy for England 2015-2020 (NHS England, 2015) comments that “There is a substantial opportunity to diagnose many more cancers earlier, which would lead to better patient outcomes” – and this is very much the case with bowel cancer.


Since January this year, Beating Bowel Cancer has been campaigning for the screening age for bowel cancer in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to be reduced from 60 to 50. If this were done, almost 8 million people in their 50s would be afforded the same chance of early diagnosis as their peers in Scotland.


Over the past three months, over 8,000 emails have been sent to MPs across England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland asking for this change to be made – and that’s in addition to the 277,000 signatures on Lauren Backler’s petition calling on the Health Secretary to end this discrimination.


In July 2003 the UK National Screening Committee recommended that screening be offered to those aged 50-74. Beating Bowel Cancer believes that recommendation was correct and that screening from 50 would save many lives through early diagnosis. We also believe that adopting this as policy would save the NHS many millions of pounds, based on the relative cost of treating patients at stage 1 (£3,373) and stage 4 (£12,519).  There would also be economic benefit as those in their 50s diagnosed early are likely to return to work and be productive again sooner.


The lifetime risk of developing bowel cancer is one in fourteen for men and one in nineteen for women, so your candidates – many of whom will have themselves been affected in some way by bowel cancer – will inevitably meet bowel cancer patients and their families on the campaign trail. Standardising bowel cancer screening from 50 is the right thing to do, both ethically and rationally: I hope you will give serious consideration to including this commitment in your election manifesto.


Yours sincerely


Judith Brodie

Interim Chief Executive