The UK National Health Service (NHS) is expanding its bowel cancer screening programme to individuals aged 54 in England, aiming to detect early signs of the disease.

This initiative is set to distribute more home-testing kits, known as the faecal immunochemical test (FIT), which can help detect signs of bowel cancer. The FIT kit checks for blood in a small stool sample, a potential indicator of the disease.

As part of the phased expansion, an additional 830,000 people will become eligible for the screening test.

The FIT kits are designed for easy home use. Individuals can collect a stool sample in a tube and send it back to the NHS for analysis. Those eligible will receive an invitation letter, the test kit with instructions, and prepaid return packaging.

Participants will then receive their results and information on further tests if necessary.

Currently, people aged 56 to 74 are offered the FIT home testing kit through the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme. Those aged 75 and above can request a kit by contacting the NHS bowel cancer screening helpline.

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Since the kit’s introduction in April 2019, national uptake has risen from 59.2% to 67.8%, leading to more cancer detections than with the previous test.

London will be among the first regions to offer the test to the new age group.

The move forms part of the NHS’s efforts to diagnose cancers earlier and increase the likelihood of successful treatment and survival.

NHS England Vaccinations and Screening National Director Steve Russell said: “Lives are saved when cancers are caught early and this expansion of our bowel cancer screening programme to those aged 54 will help to spot signs of bowel cancer sooner, and potentially save thousands of lives.

“We are seeing positive uptake of the home testing FIT kits, with over two-thirds of those eligible returning their tests, but we want to see even more people taking up the offer.”