DIY test kits could prevent 100,000 people from having colonoscopies each year for suspected bowel cancer after guideline changes.
New draft guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence says patients should first be offered fecal immunochemical tests (FITs).
The move is expected to help diagnose bowel cancer faster, especially among younger patients, and reduce NHS waiting times by reducing referrals.
The tests require people to collect a small stool sample and send it to a lab for analysis, and results are usually available within a week.
According to Cancer Research UK, there are around 42,000 new cases of bowel or colorectal cancer each year.
New draft guidance says patients should first be offered fecal immunochemical tests (pictured) before a colonoscopy
The tests cost the NHS between £4 and £5 each and can correctly identify around nine in 10 people with the disease.
Mark Chapman, Nice’s acting director of medical technology and digital assessment, said: “Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK.
“These recommendations ensure that we balance the best care with the best value for money while delivering services for both individuals and society as a whole.”
A Nice analysis found that 94,291 fewer colonoscopies would be performed if the number of people referred fell by 25 percent.
With record waiting lists, NHS capacity for colonoscopies is “limited” and patients face long waiting times.
The use of home tests “could reduce the number of people referred for urgent colonoscopy and thus reduce waiting times to allow people following non-emergency referral routes to be seen more quickly.”
GPs should still refer patients with a negative FIT for a colonoscopy if symptoms persist, the watchdog says.
Genevieve Edwards, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK, said it could help speed up diagnosis for those too young for screening programmes.
She said: ‘Those with low-risk symptoms, especially the very young, often face late diagnosis or have to see their GP multiple times before being referred for further testing.
“This guide will help GPs better identify and quickly refer the right patients for further testing and could help detect bowel cancer at an earlier stage, when it is most treatable and curable.”