A mother-of-three says a self-testing kit for bowel cancer saved her life.
Wendy Lyons, lives in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, a county leading the way in the use of Faecal Immunochemical Tests or FIT.
The kit can tell doctors whether a more expensive and uncomfortable colonoscopy is needed.
Hospital bosses hope they can use it to find cancer earlier in people who would not normally be tested for the disease.
Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in Nottinghamshire said in November 2017, Nottingham GPs were the first in England to offer tests to patients with symptoms of bowel cancer other than spots of blood in their faeces or an obvious lump.
The test, which costs the NHS about £15 per person compared with £400 for a colonoscopy, is this year being sent to everyone over 60 as part of the national screening programme and is already widely used in Scotland.
But in Nottinghamshire, doctors can recommend the test to anyone with unexplained bowel problems, even if they think there is only a slim chance they have cancer, meaning they can pick it up in younger people too.
‘Luckiest survivor alive’
Miss Lyons, 46, thought she was going through the menopause when she started getting headaches and pains.
Her GP initially reassured her it was unlikely to be cancer, offering her the test as a precaution.
It showed up positive and as a result her cancer was picked up so early she avoided both chemotherapy and major side effects from her operation.
“I feel like the luckiest cancer survivor alive – I can’t thank the NHS enough,” she said. “That FIT test saved my life.”
According to Ayan Banerjea, a bowel cancer consultant in Nottingham, GPs can be reluctant to recommend colonoscopies unless it is necessary.
Using the kit, you collect small samples of your faeces and post them to a lab which then checks them for tiny amounts of blood, which could be caused by cancer.
A small number of places now follow Nottingham’s example, such as hospitals in Hertfordshire and Leicester, but most are waiting to see how well it works first, according to Mr Banerjea.
Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and came under the spotlight after BBC journalist Jeremy Bowen’s diagnosis.
Mr Banerjea said medics were now “picking up more cancers at an earlier stage”.