Bowel Cancer Screening
NHS bowel cancer screening checks if you could have bowel cancer. It’s available to everyone aged 60 or over and 56 year olds.
You use a home test kit, called a faecal immunochemical test (FIT), to collect a small sample of poo and send it to a lab. This is checked for tiny amounts of blood.
Blood can be a sign of polyps or bowel cancer. Polyps are growths in the bowel. They are not cancer, but may turn into cancer over time.
If the test finds anything unusual, you might be asked to have further tests to confirm or rule out cancer.
Always see a GP if you have symptoms of bowel cancer at any age, even if you have recently completed a NHS bowel cancer screening test kit – do not wait to have a screening test.
Why screening is offered
Regular NHS bowel cancer screening reduces the risk of dying from bowel cancer.
Bowel cancer is the 4th most common type of cancer. Screening can help find it at an early stage, when it's easier to treat.
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 55 or over, as this is when you’re more likely to get bowel cancer:
- if you’re 55, you’ll automatically be invited for a one-off bowel scope screening test, if it’s available in your area
- if you’re 60 to 74, you’ll automatically be invited to do a home testing kit every 2 years
- 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.
Home test kits
How to get a home test kit
Everyone aged 60 to 74 who is registered with a GP and lives in England is automatically sent a bowel cancer screening kit every 2 years. The programme includes 56 year olds.
Make sure your GP practice has your correct address so your kit is posted to the right place.
If you're 75 or over, you can ask for a kit every 2 years by phoning the free bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60.
If you're worried about a family history of bowel cancer or have any symptoms, speak to a GP for advice.
There are instructions that come with the kit.
Your test result
Your result should be posted to you within 2 weeks of sending off your kit.
There are 2 types of result.
No further tests needed
This result means:
- no blood was found in your poo sample, or only a tiny amount was found
- you do not need to do anything at this time
- you'll be invited to do another screening test in 2 years (if you'll still be under 75 by then)
This is not a guarantee that you do not have bowel cancer. See a GP if you have or get symptoms of bowel cancer, even if you have already done a screening kit.
About 98 in 100 people do not need further tests.
Further tests needed
This result means:
- blood was found in your poo sample
- you do not necessarily have bowel cancer (the blood could be the result of something like piles) but you'll be offered an appointment to talk about having another test called a colonoscopy to look for the cause
A colonoscopy is where a thin tube with a camera inside is passed into your bottom to look for signs of bowel cancer.
About 2 in 100 people are asked to have further tests.
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 colonoscopy test you might have if screening finds something unusual could damage your bowel, but this is rare.
More information and advice
Call the free bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60 if:
- you have not had your result after 2 weeks from when you sent off your kit
- you want to know more about screening
- you do not want to be invited for bowel cancer screening