By Marie-Louise Connolly
BBC NI Health Correspondent
Risk factors for colon cancer include a diet high in animal fat and low in fibre
A bowel cancer screening programme, due to begin in December, has been delayed, because money to pay for it has gone towards paying for swine flu instead.
The Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey, committed funds for the start of the programme back in 2008.
The Ulster Cancer Foundation said it was disappointed at the decision.
Each year in Northern Ireland around 400 people die from bowel cancer. It is the second most common cancer death in men and the third in women.
To try and tackle the issue, last year the Department of Health set itself a target of introducing a bowel cancer screening programme for those aged between 60 and 69.
The department also said they would like to achieve a 10% reduction in mortality from bowel cancer by 2011.
Bowel cancer - also known as colorectal cancer or colon cancer - is any cancer that affects the colon (large bowel) and rectum (back passage).
Most bowel cancers start as benign innocent growths - called polyps - on the wall of the bowel.
One type of polyp called an adenoma can become malignant and the cancer cells multiply to form a tumour in the bowel.
Symptoms include bleeding without any obvious reason, abdominal pain and a lump in the stomach
Bowel cancer affects 35,600 people every year - men and women of all ages - and claims almost 50 lives every day in the UK.
If bowel cancer is caught early and treated successfully, it is completely curable.
Source Beating Bowel Cancer
But the cost of swine flu is now impacting on other services, and as a result the programme has been postponed to April 2010.
Liz Atkinson, from the Ulster Cancer Foundation said the move was extremely disappointing and worrying.
"Those of us involved in the cancer network in Northern Ireland had been looking forward to the start of this screening," she said.
"It is much needed here as early detection can mean saving many lives. Now Northern Ireland is the only region UK without one - so yet again we are lagging behind."
Kathy Cash, who lives in County Down, describes herself as a bowel cancer survivor.
She was diagnosed with the illness in November in 2003. Next week will be her sixth anniversary of battling the disease, she said the health minister's decision to delay the introduction of the programme was wrong.
"I feel angry and disappointed that the government have now set it back further again and feel that it is a very important issue," she said.
"It is the case that lives can be saved through screening.
Kathy was one of the lucky ones as her cancer was detected early. She had radiotherapy, but now has a colostomy bag.
"I wasn't screened," she said.
"I developed symptoms, went to my GP and it was just maybe that I had some medical knowledge that I sort of maybe looked out for the signs."
The decision to delay the programme has been blamed on the spiralling costs of swine flu.
At the moment the bill stands at about £64m - but that could rise if there are further casualties of the virus and further pressure placed on hospitals.
Last week it was revealed that other executive departments have agreed to surrender a total of just over £39m towards dealing with the pandemic and more cash will come from unspent budgets.
As a result, Michael McGimpsey said he could reject proposals for the closure of a 150 hospital beds in Belfast.
According to some other health professionals, especially those who work in cancer charities, there is a fear that delaying this bowel cancer screening programme could be just the start.
A spokesperson from the Department of Health said despite the additional funding there remained difficult decisions ahead for the health service, including delays to much needed service improvements.