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Bowel Cancer Screening Programme

What is the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme?

The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme offers screening every two years to all men and women aged 60-69. People in this age group will automatically be sent an invitation, then their screening kit, so they can do the test at home. Your GP will provide your contact details, so it is important that he or she has your correct name and address.

After your first screening test, you will be sent another invitation and screening kit every two years until you reach 69. If you are aged 70 or over, you can ask for a screening kit by calling the freephone number 0800 707 60 60.

What is bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer is also known as colon, rectal or colorectal cancer. The lining if the bowel is made up of cells that are constantly being renewed, Sometimes these cells grow too quickly, forming a clump of cells know as a bowel polyp (sometimes known as adenoma). Polyps are not bowel cancers (they are usual benign), but they can change into a malignant cancer over a number of years. A malignant cancer is when cancer cells have the ability to spread beyond the original site and in to other parts of the body.

Who is at risk of developing bowel cancer?

  • Both men and women are at risk of developing bowel cancer.
  • Your risk of developing bowel cancer increases with age. Eight out of 10 people who are diagnosed with bowel cancer are over 60.
  • People with a family history of bowel cancer have an increased risk of developing cancer.
  • 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 firbe are all thought to have an increased risk of developing bowel cancer.

How does the screening test work?

  • The screening test detects tiny amounts of blood, which you cannot normally see, in your bowel motions. It is called Faecal Occult Blood (FOB) test (‘occult blood’ means hidden blood).

  • Polyps and bowel cancers sometimes bleed, which is why we screen for blood in your bowel motions.

  • The FOB test does not diagnose bowel cancer, but the results will tell you whether you need an examination of your bowel (a colonoscopy).

How is the screening (FOB) test carried out?

You carry out the FOB test in the privacy of your own home. The screening kit provides a simple way for you to collect small samples of your bowel motions. You wipe the samples on a special card, which you then send in a hygienically sealed freepost envelope to a laboratory for testing. There are detailed instructions with each kit. You may think that doing the test sounds a bit embarrassing or unpleasant, but it will only take a few minutes and it is an effective way to detect bowel cancer early.

When do I get my results and what do they mean?

You should receive a results letter from the laboratory within two weeks of sending in your sample. There are three types of results you could receive.

  • A normal result means that blood was not found in your test sample. Most people (about 98 out of 100) will receive a normal result.

A normal result does not guarantee that you do not have or will never develop bowel cancer in the future, so being aware of the symptoms of bowel cancer is very important. You will be offered bowel cancer screening again in two years.

  • An unclear result means there was a slight suggestion of blood in your FOB test sample. This could have been caused by conditions such as haemorrhoids (piles) or stomach ulcers. Receiving an unclear result does not mean you have cancer, just that you need to repeat the FOB test.

  • An abnormal result shows that blood may have been found in your FOB test sample- it is not a diagnosis of cancer, but it does mean that you will be offered a colonoscopy. The abnormal result may have been caused by bleeding from bowel polyps, rather than a bowel cancer. It may also have been caused by other conditions, such as haemorrhoids (piles).

About two in every 100 people doing the test will have an abnormal result. Sometimes, someone with an abnormal result will have repeated the test due to a previous unclear result. If you receive an abnormal result, you will be offered an appointment with a specialist nurse to discuss having a more detailed examination of your bowel (a colonoscopy), to see whether there is a problem that may need treatment.

What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is an investigation that involves looking directly at the lining of your large bowel. A thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera attached (a colonoscope) is passed into your back passage and guided around your bowel. If polyps are found, most can be removed painlessly, using a wire loop passed down the colonoscope tube. These tissue samples will be checked for any abnormal cells that might be cancerous.

  • About five in 10 people who have a colonoscopy will have a normal result (they do not have cancer or polyps).

  • About four in 10 will be found to have a polyp, which if removed may prevent cancer developing.

  • About one in 10 people will be found to have a cancer when they have a colonoscopy.

More information about the colonoscopy investigation will be sent out to anyone who is offered a colonoscopy appointment. Remember, most people who complete the FOB test will not need a colonoscopy.

What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?

The most common symptoms of bowel cancer to look out for are:

  • A persistent change in the bowel habit, especially going to the toilet more often or diarrhoea for several weeks;

  • Bleeding from the back passage without any obvious reason; 

Abdominal pain, especially if it is severe; and

  • A lump in your abdomen.

Please remember that these symptoms do not necessarily mean that you have bowel cancer, but it you have one or more of these symptoms for four to six weeks, you should see your GP.

More information and support

If you have any questions, or would like more information about screening for bowel cancer, you can:

  • Contact your programme hub on freephone 0800 707 60 60

  • Visit the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes website at www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk

  • The local screening centre (Milton Keynes & Buckinghamshire) can be contacted on 01908 826798.

If you are 70 or over and would like a bowel cancer screening kit, please call freephone 0800 707 60 60.

Bowel Cancer Screening- The Colonoscopy Investigation. Available at


Phone : 01908 826798