New bowel cancer screening launches for Lynch syndrome patients

Thousands of people in England at risk of bowel cancer will benefit from world-first preventative programme

A new NHS testing programme for bowel cancer has been launched for people with Lynch Syndrome, following an initiative to increase genomic testing for the condition.

The national programme is part of the wider NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme and is designed to make taking part as easy as possible, with colonoscopies offered at local screening centres and with specially trained staff. Around 10,000 people with Lynch syndrome will start receiving invitations to take part this year.

Dr Kevin Monahan, who led the NHS England Lynch syndrome transformation project, said: “Incorporating people with Lynch syndrome into the national colonoscopy screening programme is game-changing and will save many lives each year. It will deliver prevention and early diagnosis of bowel cancer through timely and high-quality colonoscopy. Now diagnosis of this hereditary condition in England will be linked to lifelong patient-focused care.”

Lynch syndrome

Lynch syndrome is a genetic condition that increases the risk of developing several types of cancer, including colorectal (bowel), pancreatic and some gynaecological cancers. Around 1 in 400 people in the UK are believed to be affected, around 80% of whom will develop bowel cancer in their lifetime. It is also difficult to detect – as many as 95% of people with the condition are unaware they have it, and many only find out when they develop cancer or it is found in the family.

As part of the NHS Long Term Plan is to diagnose 75% of cancers at an early stage by 2028, there have been efforts to identify more people with Lynch syndrome and help reduce the risk of them getting cancer.

To support this aim, in April 2023, the NHS began rolling out a programme to offer genomic testing for Lynch syndrome to every person diagnosed with bowel or endometrial cancer. Relatives of those who test positive are then also invited to be tested for the condition.

Preventing bowel cancer

The new bowel cancer screening programme will offer a colonoscopy to people with Lynch syndrome every two years. They will be eligible to join the programme from age 25 or 35, depending on the gene variant they have that causes the condition, as some variants can result in the disease developing at a younger age than others.

Offering people with Lynch syndrome regular colonoscopies will allow precancerous cell changes to be identified and treated before cancer develops, as well as diagnosing cancers that do arise at the earliest possible stages, when treatment outcomes are best.

“This is great news for patients with Lynch syndrome – not only has genetic testing for the condition increased massively in less than five years, but we are also ensuring that patients diagnosed with Lynch syndrome are then guaranteed to get the high-quality surveillance colonoscopy they need from the national screening programme,” said NHS England national speciality adviser for endoscopy and bowel screening, Dr Robert Logan.

“This is the first time any country has been able to deliver such a comprehensive joined up approach to diagnosis and early intervention for one of the most common hereditable cancer syndromes.”

Please note: This article is for informational or educational purposes, and does not substitute professional medical advice.