Screening for bowel cancer will start 10 years earlier, at the age of 50 for both men and women, the Government has announced.
The screening, which involves providing stool samples using a home test kit every two years, is currently offered to patients aged between 60 and 74.
However, new recommendations from an independent expert committee suggest that screening from the age of 50 will improve survival chances.
The committee found that screening people sooner would enable more bowel cancers to be picked up at an earlier stage, when treatment is likely to be more effective and survival chances improved.
PHE director of screening Professor Anne Mackie said: ‘The risk of bowel cancer rises steeply from around age 50 to 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.
She added that the home test kits will be offered to younger patients in stages, first ‘offered at 55 and eventually to all aged 50 – ensuring we have the best bowel screening programme possible’.
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens added: ‘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.’
The Government said that NHS England and PHE will now consider how to transition towards lowering the screening age.
Last year official figured showed that more than four in 10 over-60s fail to return bowel cancer test kit.
Meanwhile, earlier this year GPs in Wales were encouraged to improve bowel cancer awareness, in the hope that it would boost the screening uptake, which is as low as 38% in some deprived areas.