The regional minister for Health, Marina Álvarez, announced on Monday that all Andalusian health centres will begin routine colon cancer screening this year. That means going from just 25 health centres with the necessary equipment to carry out blood tests on faeces at present, to 1,600 by the end of 2018.
That was the commitment made by the regional Health minister, who assured listeners at the event in Seville that the prevention of bowel cancer is a priority for the Andalusian government, because it is a very important public health issue.
She said that screening “will be a priority this year as part of our comprehensive oncology plan”. Álvarez acknowledged the difficulty of implementing screening across the board, given that the target population, those between 50 and 69, is over two million, of whom 400,000 live in Malaga province. Currently there are only three health centres in Malaga city that have a colon cancer screening programme: Alameda-Perchel, La Roca and Carlinda.
Discovering colon cancer at an early stage is essential if the patient is to make a full recovery. Undertaking a blood test on a patient's faeces is an effective and sensible measure to ascertain whether a patient is suffering from bowel cancer and how advanced the disease is.
The announcement from Marina Álvarez came after the Andalusian provincial branches of the Spanish cancer association, AECC, called for the health service to extend the screenings to everyone aged between 50 and 69 years old. The AECC, marking the Day Against Colon Cancer held on 31 March, declared that “Andalucía is a black spot” in Spain's fight against the disease.
Of the 1,983,846 Andalusians between the ages of 50 and 69 years who have the right to access the bowel cancer screening programme, only 104,807 have received a letter inviting them to have the test, which makes up just 5.2 per cent of the total, according to the organisation.
The AECC has shown that 90 per cent of cases of colon cancer that are detected early, through a blood test carried out on faeces, can be beaten.
This test, as well as saving many lives and reducing patients' suffering, is cheap: it costs the health service two euros. If the result is positive, as it is for between six and seven per cent of people who take the test, doctors will undertake a colonoscopy to confirm that the patient is suffering from colon cancer. The colonoscopy costs the health service is 180 euros. In contrast, the average cost of treatment for full-blown cancer of the colon is currently around 27,000 euros.