Many constituents have contacted me recently to suggest that the screening age for bowel cancer is reduced from 60 to 50 years.   I do appreciate these concerns as I know that bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed in the UK.

Over eight in ten cases of bowel cancer occur in the over 60s. At present, under the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme in England, people aged 60-74 years old are sent a home testing kit every two years. Those aged above the eligible age limit are also able to self-refer for screening.

I agree that early diagnosis is key and, as part of the Screening Programme, a new test is being introduced which is easier to complete. It is hoped that 200,000 more people per year will take up this opportunity to be screened.  An additional one-off bowel scope screening test is also being introduced for those aged 55 years old. 

On 18 January, the Health Minister David Mowat responded to a Parliamentary Question on screening, and said:

The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme in England offers screening by FOBt to men and women aged 60 to 75, with five laboratories processing the testing kits. NHS England is working with Public Health England to replace FOBt with a new screening test, the Faecal Immunochemical Test for haemoglobin, in 2018. This comes in addition to the introduction of bowel scope screening into the programme for men and women aged 55, which has been commissioned by NHS England since April 2016 with full roll-out across England expected to be completed by 2020-21.

Cancer survival rates in the UK have never been higher but there is still more to be done. The Government is working with the NHS, charities and patient groups to deliver the new cancer strategy developed by the independent Cancer Taskforce. 

Through this strategy, we have committed to ensuring that by 2020, everyone referred with a suspicion of cancer will receive either a definitive diagnosis or the all-clear within four weeks.

NHS England has also launched a major early diagnosis programme: Accelerate, Co-ordinate, Evaluate, working with cancer charities to test new innovative approaches to identifying cancer more quickly.

The Government is further supporting this by investing up to £300 million a year on new diagnostic equipment by 2020, along with a national training programme for an additional 200 staff to carry out endoscopy tests by 2018, and providing a £130 million fund to modernise radiotherapy across England.

Ministers recognise that investing in research is also vital in order to increase survival rates. In light of this, it is encouraging that the National Institute for Health Research spending on cancer research has risen from £101 million in 2010/11 to £135 million in 2014/15. The Government, along with Cancer Research UK, are jointly funding a network of 18 experimental cancer medicine centres aimed at driving the development and testing of new anti-cancer treatments.

Finally, the Government remains committed to the £1 billion Cancer Drugs Fund, which has helped over 95,000 people to access the life-extending drugs they need. New arrangements have been introduced for the Fund to ensure that the most promising and new medicines get to patients as quickly as possible.