Bowel cancer screening involves having tests to check if you have or are at risk of bowel cancer.
Why it's offered
Bowel cancer is a common type of cancer in both men and women. About 1 in 20 people will get it during their lifetime.
Screening can help detect bowel cancer at an early stage, when it's easier to treat. It can also be used to help check for and remove small growths in the bowel called polyps, which can turn into cancer over time.
Types of screening test
There are 2 types of test used in NHS bowel cancer screening:
- bowel scope screening – a test where a thin, flexible tube with a camera at the end is used to look for and remove any polyps inside your bowel
- home testing kit (the FIT or FOB test) – a kit you use to collect small samples of your poo and post them to a laboratory so they can be checked for tiny amounts of blood (which could be caused by cancer)
If these tests find anything unusual, you might be asked to have further tests to confirm or rule out cancer.
When it's offered
NHS bowel cancer screening is only offered to people aged 56 or over (please note this age cut off is to be lowered slowly to 50 by 2024/5), as this is when you're more likely to get bowel cancer:
- if you're 55, you'll no longer be invited for a one-off bowel scope screening test
- Instead by 2024/5 all those over the age of 50 will be invited to complete the stool screening test
- This is being done in a staged fashion. See the table below. They will initially drop to 56 to capture those that would of previously got the bowel scope screening test at 55. For example: a centre starts the new age extension (56-year olds) on 1 June 2021. They will invite anyone who turns 56 from that date onwards. Anyone who was aged 56 before 1/6/21 will be invited when they are eldible as part of the next age cohort (at age 58)
|Cohort age at first invitation
|Year invitations start
|50 & 52
- if you eligble, you'll automatically be invited to do a home testing kit every 2 years. They will send you a letter & leaflet to your home address. Please ensure your address is correct.
- if you're 75 or over, you can ask for a home testing kit every 2 years by calling the free bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60
If you're too young for screening but are worried about a family history of bowel cancer, speak to a GP for advice.
Always see a GP if you have symptoms of bowel cancer at any age – do not wait to have a screening test.
Risks of screening
No screening test is 100% reliable. There's a chance a cancer could be missed, meaning you might be falsely reassured.
There's also a small risk that the bowel scope screening test and some of the tests you might have if screening finds something unusual could damage your bowel, but this is rare.
There are no risks to your health from the home testing kit.