Frequently asked questions 

I'm in my sixties and some of my neighbours have already received their kit. Have I been missed?

I take care of the hygiene needs of a disabled/elderly person. Can I complete the screening kit for them?

I am a carer, looking after someone who lacks the mental capacity to make their own decisions about screening. They have been invited for screening. How should I deal with their invitation?

It's more than two years since I was screened but I still haven't received my next screening invitation?

I have had bowel surgery. Do I need to continue with bowel screening?

How can I tell if I have a functioning colon?

I suffer from piles. Will this interfere with the screening test?

How does the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme know to invite me? Does the invitation system have all my medical details?

Can everybody have bowel scope screening at 55?

Do I have to have a colonoscopy if I have an abnormal FOB result?

Is screening for bowel cancer available privately?

How do I opt out of the FOB screening?

I'm in my sixties and some of my neighbours have already received their kit. Have I been missed?

If you are a few months after your 60th birthday and not heard from us, please ring the helpline (0800 707 60 60) to check we have your correct details.

Don't forget: if you are worried about possible symptoms, don't wait for screening but speak to your GP.

I take care of the hygiene needs of a disabled/elderly person. Can I complete the screening kit for them?

If the person has asked for help, understands the screening process (including the bowel examination), and does not have a medical condition that means they shouldn't be screened, then the answer is yes. If the person doesn't understand the screening process, however, and/or doesn't have the capacity to consent to it, please read the next FAQ for more information and advice.

I am a carer, looking after someone who lacks the mental capacity to make their own decisions about screening. They have been invited for screening. How should I deal with their invitation?

Speak to your GP first of all, as they will have access to the person's medical records and knowledge of their overall medical health. In general, however:

  • Mental capacity changes over time, in which case the decision about screening should be delayed until the person is more able to decide for him or herself.
  • But if the person you care for is unable to make their own decisions about screening, then you should make what is called a "best interests" decision on their behalf. You'll need to weigh up the benefits of screening, the possible harms, and what you think the person would have wanted. Paid carers in particular should get advice from family members or friends about the person's views before coming to a decision.

For more information on making a best interests decision, you can read Making decisions: A guide for family, friends and other unpaid carers (PDF, 547kb).

It's more than two years since I was screened but I still haven't received my next screening invitation?

The two-year gap between screening invitations is calculated from the date on which your previous screening episode was closed. In some cases (for example, if you had further tests), this could be several months after you received your screening invitation. This, in turn, could delay your next invitation by several months.

I have had bowel surgery. Do I need to continue with bowel screening?

Screening is designed to check the health of your colon (large bowel). If you have a functioning colon, you should continue with bowel screening. People with no functioning colon do not need to be screened.

If you're unsure whether you have a functioning colon, the next FAQ offers more information.

How can I tell if I have a functioning colon?

People who do not have a functioning colon cannot store and pass poo out of their body in the normal way. They need to make continuous use of a pouch or colostomy bag.

You may have to use a colostomy bag temporarily  for example, following treatment. If so, you should be screened in the usual way, when invited, once it is removed.

If after reading this you're still unsure whether you have a functioning colon, you should check with your GP before accepting a screening invitation.

I suffer from piles. Will this interfere with the screening test?

If you have piles (haemorrhoids) there's more chance you will get an abnormal result. An abnormal result may be caused by blood from your haemorrhoids or from another bowel condition. Anyone with an abnormal result is offered a colonoscopy to get a diagnosis.

How does the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme know to invite me? Does the invitation system have all my medical details?

No, the invitations are generated by a system which only has the basic registration details held when you register with a GP. Any additional medical history is only accessed with your permission.

Can everybody have bowel scope screening at 55?

Some health problems mean that it might not be possible for you to have bowel scope screening. Please call the freephone helpline number on 0800 707 60 60 if you:

  • have had all of your large bowel removed, or have a stoma bag to collect your poo
  • are currently being treated for ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease in your large bowel
  • are waiting for heart surgery or have had heart surgery in the last three months
  • cannot walk more than 100 yards without resting because of a lung or heart problem
  • think you may be too unwell to go for your appointment

Do I have to have a colonoscopy if I have an abnormal FOB result?

If you have an abnormal FOB result, you will be offered an appointment with a specialist screening practitioner. They will fully explain the colonoscopy procedure to you and assess your fitness for it. If you want to go ahead with the colonoscopy, the practitioner will book an appointment for you. It's your choice.

Is screening for bowel cancer available privately?

Yes, but private screening is not the same as NHS screening. NHS screening programmes care for you throughout the whole screening process, including further treatment and care if you need it. In the case of private screening, the care and treatment you may need following screening may not be available from the provider.

For more information, read the NHS leaflet Thinking of having a private screening test? (PDF, 1.1Mb).

How do I opt out of FOB screening?

If you don't want to be invited for bowel screening in the future, call the programme helpline on 0800 707 6060 and the staff will guide you through the opting-out process. If you change your mind at a later date, you can simply ask your GP to put you back on the list.


Page last reviewed: 09/02/2015

Next review due: 01/02/2018