More than four in 10 eligible patients are still not being screened for bowel cancer, despite a moderate increase in uptake from the previous year.
Everyone aged 60-74 is sent a home test kit to provide a stool sample under Public Health England’s screening programme – which sees GPs encouraged to endorse screening invitations – but many are not returned.
In 2016/17, 59% participated in the programme, up by 3% from the year before, according to PHE’s annual update on NHS screening programmes.
But PHE pointed out that this is still significantly lower than other screening programmes such as for breast cancer (76%) and cervical cancer (72%).
PHE put this down partly to feelings of embarrassment about providing a stool sample, especially among men.
Over 3,000 cases of bowel cancer were diagnosed as a result of screening last year, with 90% identified at an early stage where treatment is more likely to be successful.
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in England, killing around 13,000 people every year, but screening has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from the disease by 16%.
As of next year PHE is replacing the current test with the simpler and more accurate faecal immunochemical test (FIT), which will require just one sample rather than the current three.
NHS England has said it expects the FIT test to cut the number of ‘invasive’ colonoscopy investigations by half.
PHE director of screening Professor Anne Mackie said the take-up figures were ‘of great concern’, adding: ‘Men in particular are less likely to send in a sample, so we’re asking their partners, children and grandchildren to encourage them to do so…
‘Embarrassment over giving a stool sample may be causing thousands of preventable deaths. But with a new home test kit next year making it much easier to get screened we are hoping to see numbers increase.’