Calls for new policies on NHS cancer tests

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Routine screening for prostate cancer should be reconsidered after a scientific study showed that the process can save lives, a charity said yesterday. The Prostate Cancer Charity said the UK's policy of not making prostate cancer screening readily available on the NHS should be re-examined after a major European study found it could reduce death rates from the disease by about 20 per cent.

The announcement came on the day campaigners delivered a petition to Downing Street which called on Gordon Brown to lower the minimum age for cervical cancer screening.

John Neate, chief executive of the Prostate Cancer Charity, said: "We are calling for the UK National Screening Committee to conduct a rapid review of this new evidence and its implications for current practice in the UK and to publish its findings."

Prostate cancer claims the lives of around 10,000 British men each year. Previously, it had been argued that the screening is unreliable and would lead to many men being unnecessarily treated. Mr Neate said the research highlighted the "critical importance" of developing a test that can distinguish aggressive forms of prostate cancer from slow-growing strains.

"Such a test would enable treatment to be focused on men for whom prostate cancer poses a serious risk to their health," he said. "We look to the Government to adopt a leadership role in ensuring the UK is able to play its full part in the search for such a test."

Health Minister Ann Keen said: "The UK National Screening Committee regularly reviews its policy decisions in the light of new evidence. As a result of the new reports, we will formally ask the UK NSC to review the evidence on prostate cancer screening."

Meanwhile, the petition to lower the minimum age for cervical cancer screening, with 15,000 signatures and supported by terminally-ill television star Jade Goody, calls on the Government to extend routine smear tests to women aged under 25. The minimum age for testing in England was set at 20 until 2004. Regular tests still start at the age of 20 in Wales and Scotland. The NHS says testing women under 25 would result in many unnecessarily having invasive checks which can increase the risk of premature births.

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