Public Health England is urging all men and women over the age of 60 to get screened for bowel cancer, after fresh data show over 40 percent are not getting tested, “putting thousands unnecessarily at risk of dying”.

Data for bowel cancer screening in 2016/17 show that, despite a 3 percent increase on the previous year, the take-up for bowel cancer screening (59 percent) is still significantly lower compared to other cancer screening programmes such as breast screening (76 percent) and cervical screening (72 percent).

If detected early bowel cancer is “very treatable”, in fact, screening has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from bowel cancer by 16 percent. According to PHE, thousands more lives could be saved if more people - particularly men - returned their stool samples to be tested.

But the Agency says embarrassment over providing a stool sample is a key reason preventing people from providing a stool sample.

“It’s of great concern that four out of every 10 over 60 year olds are not taking up the offer of getting tested for bowel cancer,” said Professor Anne Mackie, PHE’s director of screening. “Men in particular are less likely to send in a sample, so we’re asking their partners, children and grandchildren to encourage them to do so.”

It is hoped that changes to the screening process, in particular the introduction of a new home test, the faecal immunochemical test (FIT), which requires just one sample rather than the current three and has a higher accuracy than current the current method – will drive an increase in the number of people being checked for the disease. Bowel cancer is currently the fourth most common cancer in England, but the second leading cause of cancer deaths, killing around 13,000 people a year.