About one in 20 people in the UK will develop bowel cancer during their lifetime. 90% of people survive if it is caught early.
Regular bowel cancer screening has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from bowel cancer by 16%.
Screening aims to detect bowel cancer at an early stage when treatment is more likely to be effective.
Around 80 per cent of bowel cancers arise in people who are over 60. The NHS Screening Programme offers screening every 2 years to men and women aged 60-74 years.
How to be screened
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.
The Bowel Cancer Screening Programme is open to everyone ages of 60 to 74 who are registered with a GP in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire. The programme is expanding to make it available to everyone aged 50 to 59 years. This is happening gradually over 4 year, having started in April 2021.
If you are aged 75 or over, you can request a kit by calling the Freephone helpline on 0800 707 60 60, or by visiting NHS Bowel Cancer Screening.
A simple test kit will be sent for you to complete in the privacy of your home. This involves collecting a small sample your bowel motion and, using a specially designed prepaid envelope, returning the sample and kit to the laboratory for analysis.
The laboratory analyses the samples, looking for any trace of human blood. The test does not diagnose bowel cancer but gives an indication that further investigations are required.
If you need further investigation you will be invited for a telephone consultation with Specialist Screening Practitioner at North West Anglia Screening Centre.
More information can be found on the dedicated NHS Bowel Cancer Screening page.
How To Do The Test
The screening can also detect polyps - these are not cancers, but may develop onto cancers overtime. They can be easily removed, reducing the risk of bowel cancer developing.
Polyps and bowel cancers sometimes bleed, and the faecal occult blood (FIT) test works by detecting human blood which cannot normally be seen in bowel motions. The Fit test does not diagnose bowel cancer, but the results will indicate whether further investigation (usually, a colonoscopy) is needed.
The test is simple to complete:
- Small samples of bowel motion are collected in the privacy of your home
- The test kit is returned to the laboratory in a specially designed prepaid envelope
- The laboratory analyses the sample and issues the results
What Happens Next
After you have completed the test you will receive the result.
- Around 98 in 100 people will receive a normal result and will be returned to routine screening. They will be invited for bowel cancer screening every two years if still within the eligible age range.
- Around 4 in 100 people may initially receive an unclear result which means that there was a slight suggestion of blood in the test sample. This could be caused by conditions other than cancer such as haemorrhoids (piles). An unclear result does not mean that cancer is present, but that the FIT test will need to be repeated. Most people who repeat the test will then go on to receive a normal result.
- Around 2 in 100 people will receive an abnormal result. They will be referred for further investigation and usually offered a colonoscopy. An abnormal FIT test result can occur for a variety of reasons including piles (haemorrhoids) or stomach ulcers.
People who receive an abnormal result will be offered an appointment with a Specialist Screening Practitioner, and the next step is usually a colonoscopy procedure. The nurse will explain what a colonoscopy involves, assess the patient’s fitness for the procedure, and answer any questions.
A colonoscopy is an investigation that involves looking directly at the lining of the large bowel. A sedative is given and then a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera attached (a colonoscopes) is passed into the back passage and guided around the bowel.
If polyps are found, most can be removed painlessly, using a wire loop passed down the colonoscopes tube. These tissue samples are then checked for any abnormal cells that might be cancerous.
- About five in 10 people who have a colonoscopy will have a normal result.
- 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 cancer when they have a colonoscopy. In the unlikely event of diagnosis, information and support is available at our Cancer Wellbeing Service and online at Bowel Cancer UK
What are the Risks of a Colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy is the most effective way to diagnose bowel cancer and for most people it is a straightforward procedure. However, as with most medical procedures, there is the possibility of complications.
You can find out more about colonoscopies and associated risks in the Bowel Cancer Screening – Colonoscopy Leaflet.