DIY test kits could spare 100,000 people undergoing colonoscopies for suspected bowel cancer each year after changes to guidelines.
New draft guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence say patients should first be offered faecal immunochemical tests (FIT).
It is hoped the move could help diagnose bowel cancer faster – particularly among younger sufferers – and cut NHS waiting times by reducing referrals.
The tests require people to collect a small stool sample and post it to a lab for testing, with results usually available within the week.
According to Cancer Research UK, there are about 42,000 new cases of bowel or colorectal cancer each year.
New draft guidance says patients should first be offered faecal immunochemical tests (pictured) before a colonoscopy
The tests cost the NHS between £4 and £5 each and can correctly identify about nine in 10 people with the disease.
Mark Chapman, interim director of medical technology and digital evaluation at Nice, said: ‘Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK.
‘These recommendations ensure we are balancing the best care with value for money, while at the same time delivering both for individuals and society as a whole.’
Analysis by Nice found that 94,291 fewer colonoscopies would take place if the number of people referred fell by 25 per cent.
With record waiting lists, NHS capacity for colonoscopies is ‘limited’, with patients facing long wait times.
Using at-home tests ‘could reduce the number of people referred for urgent colonoscopy, and so reduce the waiting times to allow people on non-urgent referral pathways to be seen more quickly’.
GPs should still refer patients with a negative FIT for a colonoscopy if symptoms persist, the watchdog states.
Genevieve Edwards, chief executive at Bowel Cancer UK, said it could help speed up diagnosis for those who are too young for screening programmes.
She said: ‘Those with low-risk symptoms, especially younger people, often face a delayed diagnosis or have to see their GP a number of times before being referred for further tests.
‘This guidance will help GPs to better identify and refer the right patients for further testing quickly and could help detect bowel cancer at an earlier stage when it is more treatable and curable.’