Bowel scope screening is a new test for people aged 55 where a thin, flexible tube with a camera at the end is used to look inside your bowel.
It's done to look for and remove any small growths called polyps. These could eventually turn into cancer if they're not removed.
The test is also called a flexible sigmoidoscopy or "flexisig".
When it's offered
Bowel scope screening is being rolled out to all men and women in England aged 55. Depending on where you live, it may not be offered in your area yet.
If you're registered with a GP and live in an area where the test is available, you'll automatically be sent an invitation. Call the free bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60 to check if it's available in your area.
It's a one-off test, and you'll only be invited to have it once.
If you decide not to have the test straight away, you can have it at any point up to your 60th birthday. Call the free bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60 to arrange an appointment.
From 60 onwards, you'll be invited to do a bowel cancer screening home test kit every 2 years instead.
Before your appointment
About 2 weeks before the test:
- you'll be sent a letter about the test, as well as a small plastic pouch containing a liquid to help clear your bowel (an enema) and instructions for how to use it
On the day of the test:
- use the enema about an hour before leaving for your appointment by squeezing the liquid from the pouch into your bottom – it will make you poo very soon after you've used it
The bowel scope test
For the test:
- You may be asked to change into a hospital gown.
- You lie down on a bed on your left side.
- The doctor or nurse gently inserts the camera tube into your bottom.
- Air is pumped down the tube to open up your bowel and make it easier to spot polyps.
- The video from inside your bowel is shown on a screen – you can watch if you want.
- Any polyps are usually removed at the same time and sent to a laboratory to check for cancer.
You're awake during the test.
It's usually painless, although some people find it uncomfortable. If you do have any pain, it usually only lasts a few moments.
The test only takes a few minutes. Your whole appointment may last about 90 minutes.
You can usually go home soon after the test is finished. You don't need to stay in hospital overnight.
Most people can return to their normal activities the same day.
You'll be told straight away if any polyps are found. You'll also be sent a letter explaining your result within 2 weeks.
There are 3 types of result:
A normal result means:
- no polyps or cancer were found
- you don't need to do anything
This doesn't mean you won't ever get bowel cancer. See a GP if you develop symptoms of bowel cancer at any point.
About 95 in 100 people have a normal result.
- polyps were found and removed during the test, but they weren't cancerous
- you might be offered a test called a colonoscopy to check for polyps further up your bowel
- very rarely, you might be offered surgery to remove any polyps left in your bowel
The bowel cancer screening programme has a leaflet on the colonoscopy test.
You can also find out more about what happens during a colonoscopy.
Fewer than 5 in 100 people are asked to have a colonoscopy.
- polyps were removed during the test, and further tests in a laboratory found they were cancerous
- a doctor or nurse will arrange for you to see a bowel cancer specialist as soon as possible
If cancer is found, it's likely to be at an early stage, so there's a better chance of treatment being successful.
Fewer than 1 in 100 people are found to have cancer.
Bowel scope screening is very safe. In rare cases, it could damage the bowel and cause serious bleeding that might require surgery.
After going home, see a GP or call 111 straight away if you have:
- severe pain in your tummy or bottom
- blood in your poo that does not go away after 24 hours
More information and advice
You can call the free NHS bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60 for information and advice.
The Bowel Cancer Screening Programme has guides about:
- bowel scope screening test: what it is – in English and other languages
- bowel scope screening: easy guide
- bowel cancer screening: colonoscopy test – an audio guide
Page last reviewed: 12 February 2018
Next review due: 12 February 2021