Page last updated at 17:10 GMT, Thursday, 22 April 2010 18:10 UK

Bowel cancer screening launch

Bowel cancer cell
Bowel cancer is a common form of the disease

A new screening programme to detect early warning signs of bowel cancer has been launched in Northern Ireland.

Bowel cancer kills more than 400 people in NI each year, according to the Department of Health.

The programme will offer bowel screening to people aged 60 to 69, but at this stage only those in two of the health trusts are being contacted.

Northern Ireland is the last region in the UK to offer such a screening programme.

The programme was launched on Thursday by Health Minister Michael McGimpsey.

The new bowel screening programme will be phased in, beginning immediately with people in the Northern and Western Trust areas.

Over the next two years everyone in Northern Ireland aged between 60 and 69 will be invited for screening, and after that will be offered screening every two years.

Four out of five people who develop bowel cancer are over 60.

The department said the programme can detect signs of bowel cancer at a very early stage, when there is a 90% chance that treatment will be successful.

It said it had the potential to reduce deaths from bowel cancer by 15%, which would mean 60 fewer deaths in Northern Ireland each year.

Speaking at the launch, Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: "Screening is targeted at whole population groups because it is all about detecting warning signs before symptoms appear."

He said he would "urge everyone who receives the screening invitation to use it, even if you are feeling perfectly healthy".

"This test will prevent or detect your cancer earlier and could help save your life."

Michael McGimpsey is the last minister to reveal his spending plans - the finance minister and the assembly's health committee have made a number of requests for these figures to be published.

Projects such as the second phase of the Royal Victoria's A&E, the new women and children's hosptial and whether targets for waiting lists will be extended are all up for grabs.



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