Bowel cancer 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:
- No further tests needed
- 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
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.
Bowel cancer screening for people with Lynch syndrome
If you've been diagnosed with Lynch syndrome, you'll be offered a colonoscopy every 2 years through the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme.
This is because Lynch syndrome can increase your chance of getting bowel cancer and screening through a colonoscopy reduces the chance of becoming seriously ill or dying from bowel cancer.
The age you will be invited for a colonoscopy will depend on which variant of Lynch syndrome you have.
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
The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme has information in other formats, including:
- GOV.UK: Bowel cancer screening guide in English and other languages
- GOV.UK: Bowel cancer screening easy read guide
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Page last reviewed: 8 November 2021
Next review due: 8 November 2024