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Bowel Screening

NHS bowel cancer screening checks if you could have bowel cancer. It’s available to everyone aged 60 to 74 years.

The programme is expanding to make it available to everyone aged 50 to 59 years. This is happening gradually over 4 years and started in April 2021.

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 go to hospital 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 prevent bowel cancer or find it at an early stage, when it’s easier to treat.

How to get a home test kit

Everyone aged 60 to 74 years who is registered with a GP and lives in England is automatically sent an NHS bowel cancer screening kit every 2 years.

The programme is expanding so that everyone aged 50 to 59 years will be eligible for screening. This is happening gradually over 4 years and started in April 2021 with 56 year olds.

The programme has also started to include 58 year olds, so you may get a test before you’re 60.

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.

How to use the home test kit

The NHS bowel cancer screening kit used in England is the faecal immunochemical test kit – known as the FIT kit.

You collect a small sample of poo on a small plastic stick and put it into the sample bottle and post it to a lab for testing.

There are instructions that come with the kit.

Your test result

Your test result should be posted to you within 2 weeks of sending off your kit.

There are 2 types of result:

  1. No further tests needed
  2. Further tests needed

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

colonoscopy is where a thin tube with a camera inside is passed into your bottom to look for signs of bowel cancer.

Read a leaflet about the colonoscopy test on GOV.UK

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 NHS 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 need to call the helpline when you become eligible for screening – you’ll be contacted)
  • you do not want to be invited for NHS bowel cancer screening
FAQs

Will my piles (haemorrhoids) affect the home testing kit?

You can still be screened if you have piles (haemorrhoids), although you’re more likely to get a result that requires you to have further tests.

This result may be caused by blood from your piles or it could be due to polyps or cancer. If blood is found in your poo sample, you’ll be offered another test called a colonoscopy to look for the cause.

Can I help someone I care for use the home testing kit?

If you care for someone who needs assistance using the home testing kit, you can help them if they understand the screening process and give you permission.

Speak to a GP for advice if they do not have the capacity to give their consent – for example, if they:

  • do not understand the screening process
  • are unable to make a decision about being screened
  • are unable to communicate their wishes

Their GP will have access to the person’s medical records and knowledge of their overall medical health. They can advise you about what may be in the person’s best interests.

For more information on making a decision in someone’s best interests, see Making decisions: A guide for family, friends and other unpaid carers (PDF, 547kb).

Should I use the home testing kit if I’ve had bowel surgery?

Yes, you should consider being screened if you have a working bowel.

Screening is only not helpful if:

  • you’ve had surgery to remove all of your bowel
  • you have a stoma bag (colostomy bag) to collect your poo – if this is only temporary, it’s a good idea to continue with screening once the bag is removed

If you’ve had bowel surgery and you’re not sure if screening is suitable for you, check with a GP or call the free bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60.

Can I have screening for bowel cancer privately?

Bowel cancer screening is available from private healthcare providers but it’s not the same as NHS screening.

The NHS programme cares for you through the whole screening process, including any further treatment and care you might need.

With private screening, the care you may need following screening may not be available from the provider.

For more information, see a guide for people thinking of having a private screening test on GOV.UK