NEWLY diagnosed bowel cancer patients in Wales are from June to be tested for a syndrome that can increase by up to 80 per cent a person's lifetime risk of developing the disease.

Wales will become the first country in the UK to test for Lynch syndrome, a move that could help bowel cancer patients' family members.

Testing all new bowel cancer patients for Lynch syndrome is a NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guideline - but a Freedom of Information request by the charity Bowel Cancer UK last year revealed that none of Wales' seven health boards were implementing it, with financial and staffing issues among the reasons cited.

Now however, all seven have invested in making the test available.

A genetic condition, Lynch syndrome also increases lifetime risks for the development of other cancers, including ovarian, stomach, and womb.

The testing pledge from NHS Wales, the Wales Cancer Network and the All Wales Medical Genetic Service comes during bowel cancer awareness month, and is a major boost for Bowel Cancer UK's ongoing campaign on Lynch syndrome testing.

The charity says that currently, only five per cent of people with Lynch syndrome have been identified, meaning that more than 166,000 people in the UK do not know they are at a high risk of developing cancer.

Bowel cancer is Wales' second biggest cancer killer and its fourth most common cancer, with 2,200 people diagnosed each year.

As well as an increased risk of bowel cancer, people with Lynch syndrome are also more likely to develop bowel cancer at a much younger age, and the risk of recurrence is higher.

There is also a 50 per cent chance that people with Lynch syndrome will pass it to their children.

Identifying it in those already diagnosed with bowel cancer means family members who may also have the condition can be tested, and those with it can benefit from regular colonoscopy.

Lowri Griffiths, Head of Wales for Bowel Cancer UK, called the test pledge in Wales "a critical step forward in saving more lives from bowel cancer".

"We have been calling for improvements to identify this group of high risk patients for many years. This will put pressure on England, Scotland and Northern Ireland to follow our lead," she said.

“Testing for Lynch syndrome has a vital role to play in detecting bowel cancer early, when it is more treatable and chances of survival are high.

"This hereditary genetic condition can have a devastating impact on families. We hear every day how generations have been affected by cancer because they have Lynch syndrome. By identifying families at risk we will be better able to save lives in the future.

Professor Tom Crosby, Wales Cancer Network medical director, said that when testing identifies a patient with Lynch syndrome, they and their immediate family can be offered regular surveillance.