THOUSANDS more Islanders are set to be eligible for home-screening kits ‘vital’ for detecting the early signs of bowel cancer.
Tests are currently sent to those who are in their 60th year, but the Health Department has confirmed the scope of the programme is to be increased so that the kits are offered every two years to everyone aged 55 to 65 – a move described as ‘long overdue’ by one consultant.
Extending the range of eligibility for screening against bowel cancer, one of the most common cancers in Jersey, was originally due to happen by the end of 2022, but has been pushed back.
Consultant gastroenterologist Dr Moses Duku said the delay resulted from the need to ensure the IT system for recording tests was working seamlessly.
‘We have been trying to get this for some time, and it’s long overdue,’ he said. ‘We have the necessary funding and are having regular meetings to ensure everything is on track, so I am very optimistic that we will deliver it within the next seven to nine months.’
The Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) initiative was launched in 2021, with those receiving kits encouraged to return a small stool sample by post for analysis. Individuals may then be invited to undergo a colonoscopy if blood is detected – although this may not necessarily mean that cancer is present.
The Health Department said that the FIT screening resulted in a 75% uptake from those eligible – a significant increase from the 55% take-up rate for the one-off colonoscopy that was formerly offered to those reaching the age of 60.
Sarah Evans – interim general manager for primary, preventative and immediate care – said the colonoscopy was an invasive procedure, requiring people to take a day off work as well as having to take laxatives for three days, and that this explained the lower take-up rate.
Ms Evans added: ‘By the end of the year we hope to extend the FIT programme to all Islanders aged between 55 and 65 and be in a position to increase the number of tests completed each year.
‘Colorectal [bowel] cancer is a largely preventable disease but is the fourth most common cancer in Jersey.
‘We know bowel screening is vital, as if we detect the signs of cancer early, then we can improve survival rates for this disease – for example, if someone is diagnosed with stage-one bowel cancer they have a 92% survival rate, whereas a stage-four diagnosis only has an 8% survival rate.’
One of the Island’s highest-profile cancer charities, Macmillan Jersey, has welcomed the move.
Chief clinical officer Lauren Perchard-Rees said: ‘Bowel screening is one of the best ways to diagnose bowel cancer early, or in some cases prevent it from developing in the first place.
‘It is a positive move to see the FIT test made available to a wider and younger age group in Jersey, but just as important to this change is ensuring everyone eligible takes up the opportunity.
‘The test is simple to do and done in your own home, so we would urge people not to put it off – make it your priority that day.’
Former Health Minister Anne Pryke, who is now chair of Jersey Cancer Relief, said: ‘It’s very important to raise awareness of these issues and for people to take the tests so that any issues can be investigated promptly.’
Those who are not eligible for a test but are experiencing bowel cancer symptoms, such as blood in stools, a change in bowel habit, unexplained weight loss or severe stomach pain, are encouraged to speak to their GP.
Jersey’s move will follow changes in Wales and England, where the starting age is set to be lowered to 50 in the coming years, and Scotland, which moved to 50 last year.
Macmillan Jersey and Jersey Cancer Relief offer a range of support for those who have been diagnosed with bowel cancer – see macmillanjersey.com and jerseycancerrelief.org.