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Bowel Cancer Screening

A Guide to the NHS 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 to 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 the 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 the purpose of Bowel Cancer Screening?

Bowel cancer screening aims to detect Bowel cancer at an early age (in people with no symptoms), when treatment is more likely to be effective.

Bowel cancer screening can also detect polyps. These are not cancers, but may develop into cancers over time. They can easily be removed, reducing the risk or bowel cancer developing.

Screening saves lives.

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 the Faecal Occult Blood (FOB) test('occult blood' means hidden blood).

The FOB test does not diagnose bowel cancer, but the results will tell 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 the lab for testing. There are detailed instructons 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 is an effective way to detect bowel cancer early.

When do I get my results?

You should receive a results letter from the lab within two weeks of sending in your sample.

What do my results mean?

Most people (about 98 out of 100) will receive a normal result.

About four people out of every 100 will initially  receive an unclear result. Receiving an unclear result does not mean you have cancer, just that you need to repeat the FOB test. Most people who repeat the test will then receive a normal result.

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 or not there is a problem that may need treatment.

If you are worried about symptoms such as a persistent change in bowel habit, abdominal pain, bleeding from the back passage, tiredness or weight loss, or are worried about your bowel health in any way you shouldn't wait for screening but  should go and speak to your GP, who can arrange for referral to a speacialist if necessary.

Frequently asked questions

I'm under the screening age,  but I'm worried about symptoms. Can I be screened?

No. The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme is currently only available to those aged 60 years and over. There are no exceptions. If you are worried about symptoms you shouldn't wait for screening but should go to yuor GP, who can arrange for referral to a specialist if necessary.

My relative died of bowel cancer in his fifties - can I be tested early?

Eight out of ten people who get bowel cancer are over the age of sixty so the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme is aimed at people aged 60 to 69 years. If you are concerned about your family history, or risk of developing bowel cancer, you should see your GP in the usual way.

I'm aged 60-69 years and screening has started where I live - why haven't I been invited yet?

 When screening starts in an area, not all invitations can be sent out at once. Populations are divided up into age groups, and invitations are spread out over the first two years of screening. This means you may wait up to two years for your first screening invitation. Invitations are sent out around the time of your birthday. The majority of residents in Buckinghamshire will be invited as they turn 'odd' age (i.e. 61,63,65,67,69).


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 6060

Visit NHS Cancer Screening Programmes website at:

Useful Contacts

NHS Direct -

Bowel Cancer UK - 

                           Telephone: 08708 506050

Beating Bowel Cancer -

                           Telephone: 02088325256

Cancer Research UK -

                           Telephone: 0808 8004040

Men's Health Forum -

                           Telephone: 0207 3884449





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