Colorectal screening for cancer introduced
The long-promised national colorectal-cancer screening programme has finally been introduced, without the usual fanfare that attends such initiatives.
The programme, known as BowelScreen, started last November with the phased screening of 500,000 men and women in their 60s, Minister for Health James Reilly revealed in a recent answer to a Dáil question.
The programme has been given a “soft launch” because the first screening round will take three years to complete and phasing is necessary so as not to overload the capacity of the health service to carry out colonoscopies, according to sources.
When fully implemented, it will offer free screening to men and women aged 55-74 years, every two years.
The programme has started with the sixtysomethings because half of cancers within the wider age group are found in people in this age group.
Screening, known as a faecal immunochemical test, is carried out at home.
Once the sample is collected, it is posted for analysis to a laboratory contracted by the National Cancer Screening Service to undertake the work.
About 95 per cent of people will receive a normal test result. They will then be invited for routine screening again in two years’ time.
The remainder who do not receive a normal result will be referred for a colonoscopy at one of 15 centres around the country for further examination.
The estimated cost of the programme this year, based on an uptake rate of 60 per cent, is €4.3 million, though this cost will rise as screening is expanded.
A multiannual budget has not been set aside for the programme, but Reilly told the Labour TD Brendan Ryan in a recent Dáil answer that he regarded it as a “national priority” given the incidence of the disease in Ireland.