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More than 100,000 people each year could avoid uncomfortable invasive hospital procedures thanks to simple and reliable home testing kits for detecting bowel cancer.

The kits, which could also save the NHS millions of pounds, could also lead to earlier detection of bowel cancer, in turn leading to more effective treatment and improved outcomes.

A major study, funded by the NHS, is expected to halve the number of invasive ‘colonoscopy’ treatments carried out in hospitals by 2020. It aims to do this by improving the accuracy of home testing kits. Getting a reliable “all clear” result from one of these kits would avoid the need for a colonoscopy.

The new test kit, called “FIT”, can precisely record the presence of any blood in a sample of just one gram of poo. Each kit costs only £5, compared to the £372 cost to the NHS of carrying out a colonoscopy. Over the past year in England alone almost 303,000 patients were referred by their GP to undergo urgent investigations for suspected bowel cancer, up 15% on the previous year. Most had a colonoscopy, but more than 95% were found not to have bowel cancer.

The new study will allow the NHS to trial the home test kits using a large sample and measure their effectiveness. Taking place across several NHS sites, it will also identify how levels of blood might vary by age, gender and ethnicity, enabling the improved “FIT” home testing kit to give very accurate results no matter who is using it.

Six thousand patients will be involved in the year-long study, which has won NHS funding to the tune of £550,000. Previous smaller-scale research has already indicated that accurate FIT tests would reduce the number of ‘unnecessary’ colonoscopies by at least 40%. In response to that research, NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) said it wanted to see evidence from a much wider study involving more patients, which has led to the new study now being launched and dubbed “NICE FIT”. Researchers are confident it will find similar success rates could be achievable throughout the NHs if the new home testing kits were rolled out nationwide.

Cally Palmer, National Cancer Director at NHS England, said: “We are pleased to support this fantastic study which seeks to revolutionise diagnosis for patients with colorectal symptoms. This study, and others like it, is a key component of our transformation plans to improve survival by diagnosing cancer earlier and faster. We will be studying the results closely to see how we can best roll this test out nationally.”

Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK, also welcomed the new and larger scale study. She said: “This important study will help to increase understanding of how FIT can be used to better identify people in need of a colonoscopy.  It is also predicted to help reduce demand on the overstretched endoscopy service across England, which is vital.

“We hope that using FIT in this way will also help to speed up the diagnostic process for those at greatest risk of developing bowel cancer, thereby leading to more people being diagnosed early when the disease is most treatable and curable. We will follow the trial with great interest.”

The new study has also won the backing of TV presenter Matthew Wright, host of Channel 5’s weekday chat show “The Wright Stuff”, who lost both his father and grandfather to bowel cancer. Welcoming the study, he said: ““FIT is simpler and more accurate than any home test we’ve had before. This should mean more people will use it and FIT should help save thousands of extra lives.”

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