A national bowel cancer screening programme is being rolled out across England in a bid to reduce deaths.
John Reid believes the screening programme will reduce deaths
Ministers believe screening both men and women in their mid 60s could cut the death rate by 15% for what is the second biggest cancer killer.
The programme, which involves looking for blood in stools, will be introduced in phases from April 2006.
Health Secretary John Reid said the £37.5m two-year programme will help to save lives.
Bowel cancer affects 35,000 people in the UK each year, mainly over 60s, killing 14,000 - only lung cancer kills more out of all the cancers.
Mr Reid said: "Preventing cancer and improving services for those who develop the disease continues to be a priority for this government, and we have already made
significant progress in reducing deaths from cancer.
But he added: "We can do even better. The national roll out of a bowel cancer screening programme will help us to save even more lives.
"Screening is key to cutting deaths from cancer."
A commitment to introduce bowel cancer screening was made in the NHS Plan in 2000 and is being introduced following pilots which started the year after.
It is believed to be the first national screening programme for both men and women in Europe.
The government is also set to start large scale pilots using a second method of screening involving endoscopies - internal camera examinations - involving people in their late 50s.
Lynn Faulds Wood, the former BBC Watchdog presenter who set up Lynn's Bowel Cancer Campaign after successfully fighting bowel cancer, said it was "great news" the screening programme was being introduced.
"It is the single biggest measure that could be taken to
save lives from bowel cancer.
"I've been campaigning for national screening for
years and am delighted it is happening."
And Julietta Patnick, director of NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, added: "Delivering this new bowel cancer screening programme is a challenge we are confident we'll meet successfully."
Professor Robert Souhami, of Cancer Research UK, said: "There is no doubt that bowel screening can save lives.
"Both flexible sigmoidoscopy and FOBT (Faecal Occult Blood Test) offer considerable opportunities for early detection and more successful treatment.
"Cancer Research UK welcomes the government's commitment to developing these important screening programmes."
Sigmoidoscopy is the visual examination of the inside of the rectum and sigmoid colon, using a lighted, flexible tube connected to an eyepiece or video screen for viewing.
Jola Gore-Booth, chief executive of Colon Cancer Concern (CCC), said although bowel cancer was a major killer, it was very treatable if caught early.
"The programme will ensure that more people from the age group that is most at risk, those in their late 50s and 60s, will be diagnosed earlier and, as a result, the numbers of those affected by the disease will be significantly reduced."
Gill Oliver, of Macmillan Cancer Relief, said: "The establishment of a national programme will raise awareness of bowel cancer and alert people to the early signs and symptoms of the disease."