Millions targeted in bowel cancer campaign

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The Department of Health will announce that by 2009, all men and women aged 60 to 69 will be invited to take part in the programme.

In efforts to tackle the taboos associated with bowel cancer, those eligible for screening will be sent home testing kits for extra privacy and dignity.

A stool sample is then sent off to the lab to be analysed for signs of the disease.

Home testing kits will eventually be sent to around two million people in the target group each year to let them self-test.

Last year former Health Secretary John Reid announced that screening for the disease would be phased in gradually, starting from April 2006, to eventually cover the whole of England.

Men and women aged 60-69 years old will be screened every two years to look for signs of bowel cancer - the second biggest cancer killer.

The programme will cost £37.5 million in its first two years of roll-out.

It is hoped that screening will cut deaths from bowel cancer by 15%.

Around 35,000 cases of bowel cancer are diagnosed each year in the UK and over 16,000 people die.

It will be the first time such a programme has operated in England and is one of the first of its kind in Europe.

Bowel cancer affects more than one in 20 people in their lifetime.

But if the disease is caught early enough 90% will survive - which is a major aim of the screening programme.

The exact causes of bowel cancer are not known, but experts believe that diet, lifestyle and family history are likely to affect the risk of developing the disease.

While the risk of bowel cancer increases with age, it also affects younger people.

Symptoms of the disease include changes in bowel habit, such as going more often or diarrhoea, swelling or pain in the stomach and bleeding.

The Health Minister Rosie Winterton said on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "Something like two million people will be sent a home testing kit, because we know if you can detect this disease early, then the chances of survival are vastly increased.

"This is a disease that people really don't like to talk about, so what we have done is said people can do this test in their own home.

"Anybody can get a test for bowel cancer, if they wish to, through their GP, but our evidence shows that the key age group is between 60 and 69."

Ms Winterton said the testing would run alongside existing programmes of diet advice designed to prevent bowel cancer.

"This is the first time we have had a programme such as this in England and it is actually one of the first in Europe," she said.

"So I think we are doing everything we can on the prevention side, but with something like bowel cancer - which is a huge disease in this country - it is important to have a screening programme which means we can detect this disease early and treat it."

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