Bowel cancer screening in England is to start 10 years earlier, at the age of 50, after ministers accepted the findings of a review.
The UK national screening committee recommended offering the service to people aged 50-74, using the faecal immunochemical home test (FIT) method, after it reviewed available evidence. Ministers accepted the proposals of the independent experts on Friday.
The BBC newsreader George Alagiah and the former health secretary Andrew Lansley are among those who have called for earlier screening for the disease.
Alagiah, who is receiving treatment for bowel cancer for the second time, previously said it could have been caught sooner if England provided screening for over-50s, as was the case in Scotland.
Lord Lansley, who said he was also being treated for the disease in April, urged the government to cut the age of screening to 50 “in line with international best practice”.
FIT, which is easier to use than the current test and more accurate in detecting potential cancer, was already due to be rolled out in the autumn and will initially be offered to those aged 60-74. It is expected to be rolled out to over-55s, followed by over-50s, but no timetable has yet been given. FIT is already offered to over-50s in Scotland.
Prof Anne Mackie, the director of screening at Public Health England (PHE), said: “The risk of bowel cancer rises steeply from around age 50-54 and rates are significantly higher among males than females. Starting screening 10 years earlier at 50 will help spot more abnormalities at an early stage that could develop into bowel cancer if not detected.
“The committee recognises that this change will take time but wants the FIT test to be offered to all aged 60 and over as soon as possible, and options considered for a rollout plan where screening can be offered at 55 and eventually to all aged 50, ensuring we have the best bowel screening programme possible.”
Men and women in England and Wales are currently offered a one-off bowel scope at the age of 55. The practice is expected to remain in place until the new home test is rolled out.
The public health minister Steve Brine said: “We are determined to make our cancer survival rates the best in the world. With the rollout of FIT as a new bowel screening test from the autumn – a much more convenient and reliable test – we have a real opportunity to reshape our bowel screening programme and potentially detect the stages of bowel cancer much earlier.
“We are now considering opportunities and taking expert advice on how a sustainable, optimal bowel cancer screening programme starting at age 50 can work in the future.”
Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, said: “These important recommendations will be carefully considered in the NHS long-term plan, which will set out ambitious improvements in cancer prevention and care for the decade ahead.”