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Bowel Cancer Screening

What is the purpose of bowel cancer screening?

  • Bowel cancer screening aims to detect bowel cancer at an early stage (in people with no symptoms), when treatment is more likely to be effective. Bowel cancer screening can also detect polyps (small growths on the inner lining of the colon) which may develop into cancers over time. They can easily be removed, reducing the risk of bowel cancer developing.

Why is screening for bowel cancer important?

  • About one in 20 people in the UK will develop bowel cancer during their lifetime
  • Regular bowel cancer screening has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from bowel cancer by 16%
  • If bowel cancer is diagnosed in its earliest stages, the chance of surviving a further five years is 90%

Why is there an age group of 60 – 74?

Your risk of developing bowel cancer increases with age. Both men and women are at risk of developing bowel cancer.

What happens next?

People in this age range are automatically sent an invitation which contains information about the screening procedure. They are then sent a screening kit through the post (called a faecal occult blood test - FOB) so they can do the test at home.

How do I carry out the test?

The screening kit comes with full instructions about how to use it. The test involves obtaining samples from three separate bowel motions which are then wiped onto a card and sent back to a lab. The sample is then analysed for the presence of blood which will determine whether further investigations of the bowel are needed. You may think that doing the test sounds a bit embarrassing or unpleasant, but it can only take a few minutes and it is an effective way to detect bowel cancer early.

When do I get my results?

You should receive a results letter from the laboratory within two weeks of sending in your sample.

What do my results mean?

There are three types of results you could receive:

Normal - No further tests are needed. You will be invited to take part in screening again in two years.
Unclear - Repeat the FOB test.
Abnormal - You will be offered an appointment at a local screening centre to discuss further treatment

What happens if my result is abnormal?

The number of people who may receive an abnormal result is around 2 in 100. They will be referred for further investigation and usually offered a colonoscopy, which involves using a small camera to look at the lining of the large bowel. About five in 10 people who have a colonoscopy will have a normal result. But only around one in 10 people will be found to have cancer when they have a colonoscopy.

How reliable is bowel screening?

Bowel cancer screening has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from bowel cancer. However it is important to be aware of the symptoms of bowel cancer between tests.

Why is leading a healthy lifestyle important?

People who take little exercise, people who are overweight, and people who have a diet high in red meat and low in vegetables, fruits and fibre are all thought to have an increased risk of developing bowel cancer. Therefore leading a healthy lifestyle is vital to help reduce the risk of cancer.

If you have any concerns about bowel health, or have experienced any symptoms including blood in your poo or looser poo for three weeks or more, you are encouraged to speak to your GP or call the National Health Service Cancer Screening Programme on 0800 707 6060.

If you are 70 or over, you can request a kit by calling freephone 0800 707 6060.