The UK National Screening Committee has announced a number of proposed changes to screening programmes for bowel and cervical cancer in a bid to make detecting the disease more effective.

The proposals, which are based on independent expert reviews, include the introduction of a new test for bowel cancer screening and a change in the order in which tests are carried out on samples in cervical cancer screening.

Dr Anne Mackie, who sits on the National Screening Committee, claimed that the latest recommendations, based on internationally acknowledged criteria and a thorough evidence review and consultation process, would bring “considerable improvements” to the fight against cancer.

The changes to cervical cancer screening tests would see human papillomavirus (HPV) testing as the initial test, with only samples that test positive checked for abnormal cells. The HPV test is currently used as a test for women needing further investigation, but it is believed that switching the test would identify more women at risk of the disease and provide longer protection so women may not need to be screened so often.

The proposals for bowel cancer screening would see the traditional faecal occult blood test replaced with a new faecal immunochemical test (FIT), potentially providing additional opportunities to detect and prevent more cancers. The FIT is easier to carry out as participants only require a single sample for analysis.

Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, Sir Harpal Kumar has welcomed the recommendations, and urged the government to commit to changing testing programmes throughout the UK as soon as possible.

Gwen Kirby-Dent, a senior clinical negligence solicitor at Thompsons Solicitors’ London office, said: “Any adaptations to screening programmes or new ways of testing for cancer that could lead to early diagnosis and better treatment for cancer are welcome.

“The key for the developments in bowel and cervical cancer screening is that the government takes action as quickly as possible and invests in NHS cancer services to make the new tests readily available. This will help healthcare professionals to identify and treat cancer in patients earlier and that will assist with the overall fight against these devastating diseases.”