Screening for bowel cancer 

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK. If it's detected at an early stage, before symptoms appear, it's easier to treat and there's a better chance of surviving it.

To detect cases of bowel cancer sooner, the NHS offers two types of bowel cancer screening to adults registered with a GP in England:

  • All men and women aged 60-74 are invited to carry out an FOB (faecal occult blood) test at home. They're sent the home test kit every two years through the post, until they reach the age of 74. The FOB test checks for the presence of blood in a stool sample, which could be an early sign of bowel cancer. If you are 75 or over, you can ask for this test by calling the freephone helpline on 0800 707 60 60.
  • An additional one-off test called bowel scope screening is gradually being introduced in England. This is offered to men and women at the age of 55. As of March 2015, about two thirds of screening centres were beginning to offer this test to 55 year olds. It involves a doctor or nurse using a thin flexible instrument to look inside the lower part of the bowel and remove any small growths, called polyps, that could eventually turn into cancer.

Taking part in bowel cancer screening reduces your chances of dying from bowel cancer, and removing polyps in bowel scope screening can prevent cancer. However, all screening involves a balance of potential harms, as well as benefits. It's up to you to decide if you want to have it.

To help you decide, read our pages on bowel cancer screening, which will explain what the two tests involve, what the different possible results mean, and the potential risks for you to weigh up.


Page last reviewed: 02/09/2014

Next review due: 02/09/2016