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Screening for bowel cancer

About bowel screening

Bowel cancer begins in the large bowel which is made up of the colon and rectum. It is sometimes called colorectal cancer.

1 in 15 men and 1 in 18 women are diagnosed with bowel cancer in their lifetime, so it is important to complete your bowel screening, even if you have no symptoms.

Screening can help to detect bowel cancer early, even before you notice any symptoms. It can also prevent bowel cancer by detecting non-cancerous growths (polyps), which might develop into cancer if left untreated.

1 in 10 people

diagnosed with cancer in Yorkshire have bowel cancer. Over 1000 people in Yorkshire die of bowel cancer each year

1 in 2 bowel cancers

are detected at a late stage when treatment can be more difficult

3 in 10 people

who are sent a bowel cancer home screening kit, do not complete this test. These people are at higher risk of cancer not being detected at an early stage

The bowel screening test is sent to you through the post and is completed at home

Bowel cancer is easier to treat when diagnosed at an earlier stage. We encourage people to participate in their bowel screening, ensuring the very best chance of successful treatment. Taking the test could save your life.

In Yorkshire, 7 out of 10 eligible people complete their home testing bowel cancer screening tests. Our charity works to raise awareness of cancer screening and encourage all people and communities across Yorkshire to access vital screening services. 

If you have symptoms of bowel cancer do not wait until your next screening invitation, contact your GP.

Key questions about bowel screening answered
A bowel cancer screening kit

An early diagnosis could save your life.

Cancer was one of those things that I thought would never happen to me. I want to urge other men not to ignore the warning signs, and not to be frightened. There are treatments out there, and an early diagnosis will save your life.”

Bowel screening in Yorkshire

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in Yorkshire. Around 3500 people were diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2019.

2,400 deaths from bowel cancer are avoided in the UK through bowel screening each year.

We encourage everyone to take part in their bowel screening when invited. Yorkshire Cancer Research is funding initiatives in our region to improve participation in all cancer screening, including bowel screening. Local programmes can identify the reasons why people don’t attend screening appointments and address these issues with specific and targeted approaches.

Who is invited for bowel screening?

Bowel screening is available to people aged 60 to 74.

If you are registered with a GP you should receive a kit every two years in the post. The test is done at home

The programme also includes some people aged 56, this is because as of April 2021 the NHS has begun to gradually reduce the age range for bowel screening. This will be phased over the next four years to include people between the ages of 50-59.

If you are 75 or older you will no longer receive the home testing kit through the post, however you can ask for a home testing kit every two years by calling the freephone helpline below

Call the freephone bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60

If you think you have missed a bowel screening, or have not been sent a kit, call the freephone helpline. Make sure your GP surgery has your current contact details.

How often will I be invited for bowel screening?

You should be invited every two years to complete your bowel screening, receiving a kit in the post.

It is important to take part in screening each time you are invited

Why should I complete my bowel screening test when invited?

Screening can help to detect bowel cancers early, even before you notice any symptoms.

It can also prevent bowel cancer by detecting non-cancerous growths (polyps), which might develop into cancer if left untreated.

How does a bowel screening test work?

You will receive your test kit through the post so you can complete it at home. It will include instructions on how to do the test.

The test is called a Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) and checks for tiny amounts of blood in your poo (stool). The test does not diagnose cancer but indicates if further tests are needed.

You will need to collect a sample of poo - the easiest way to do this is to collect your poo in an old container lined with toilet paper, placed inside the toilet. Twist the cap to open the sample bottle and dip the stick in the poo, making sure to cover all the grooves on the stick. Then place the stick back in the bottle and click the cap shut.

You will then need to return the sample in the prepaid envelope supplied.

Watch the NHS video about the bowel cancer screening test here

What could the results of the screening be?

Your results will usually be sent to you by post within two weeks of sending off your kit.

A normal result means that blood was not found in your poo sample and you will be sent another home screening kit in two years.

A normal result does not guarantee that you do not have, or will never get, bowel cancer. You should continue to look out for any symptoms of bowel cancer and complete your next screening kit when it is sent to you.

98 people in 100 get a normal result. 2 in 100 people get an abnormal result.

An abnormal result means that blood was found in your poo sample. This could be caused by a number of things including bowel cancer, bleeding from polyps, piles or other conditions.

If an abnormal result is detected you will be invited to your local screening centre to have another test called a colonoscopy. A doctor or nurse will use a long thin tube with a camera on the end to look inside your bottom for signs of bowel cancer.

What are the benefits and risks of bowel screening?

Screening is the best way to catch bowel cancer early and taking part in screening reduces your risk of dying from bowel cancer by at least 25%. It can also identify polyps which could become cancerous in the future, and therefore reduces your risk of developing bowel cancer. However, no screening test is completely without risk:

  • A cancer or polyp could be missed if it was not bleeding at the time of screening, and bowel cancer could develop in between screening tests. This is why it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of bowel cancer, and to see your GP if you notice anything unusual.
  • In the unlikely case that further tests are required, such as colonoscopy, these can lead to complications, but this is rare.
  • Despite the very small risks, Yorkshire Cancer Research recommends that everyone who is eligible take part in bowel screening. The programme is designed to save lives and is recognised for its success. Without it, more people would develop and die of bowel cancer each year.

Source: NHS Bowel Cancer Screening: helping you decide | GOV.UK