Overview

Half a million people in Scotland do their bowel screening test each year, and you're 14 times more likely to survive bowel cancer if it's found early.

Bowel screening is offered to people aged 50 to 74 across Scotland to help find bowel cancer early, when it can often be cured.

Bowel screening kits are now being issued

You may not receive your kit on the expected date. This is because there was a pause in the bowel screening programme because of the pandemic. 

Invitation dates have been moved back to make sure everybody can be screened. For example, if you expected your kit in September 2021, you’ll now receive it in April 2022. After this, your invitation will return to a 2 year cycle and your next invitation would be April 2024. This is to make sure everyone receives their kit in turn and that no one is missed. 

Please remain aware of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer and contact your GP if you have any concerns.

If you've any questions about the home bowel screening test or would like to leave feedback about the bowel screening programme, contact the Scottish Bowel Screening Centre.

If you were sent a kit that you haven’t returned and it’s now out of date please request a replacement kit by contacting the Scottish Bowel Screening centre:

  • by phone - 0800 0121 833 (Open Monday to Friday, 8.00am to 5.00pm)
  • by textphone 18001 0800 0121 833 (Open Monday to Friday, 8.00am to 5.00pm)
  • by email -TAY.scottishbowelscreening@nhs.scot

The helpline is free and confidential. If there’s nobody available to take your call, please leave a voicemail message and a member of staff will return your call.

Who'll be screened?

In Scotland, only people aged 50 to 74 will be invited for bowel screening every 2 years.

If you’re 75 or over, you can still take a bowel screening test every 2 years. However, you’ll need to request a new test kit each time as the Scottish Bowel Screening Centre won't send you one.

Request a bowel screening test kit

Bowel screening for transgender and non-binary people

What does it involve?

Bowel screening involves taking a simple test at home every 2 years. The test looks for hidden blood in your poo, as this could mean a higher chance of bowel cancer.

The aim of the test is to find:

  • bowel cancer at an early stage in people with no symptoms
  • other changes in the bowel, such as pre-cancerous growths called ‘polyps’

Most bowel polyps can be removed easily, which can prevent cancer from developing.

Who's at risk?

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in Scotland. Around 4,000 people in Scotland get bowel cancer every year.

Risk factors

Some risk factors are unavoidable, such as age, sex or family history. However, as well as doing your bowel screening test you can reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer by:

  • eating a healthy diet containing wholegrains like wholegrain bread and cereals, beans, pulses and plenty of fruit and vegetables
  • limiting foods high in sugar or fat, and avoiding sugary drinks
  • avoiding processed meat like bacon and sausages, and limiting red meat
  • getting to and keeping to a healthy weight – avoid gaining weight and try losing weight if overweight
  • being more active in everyday life, this includes walking more and sitting less
  • drinking less alcohol - not drinking alcohol is better for cancer prevention
  • stopping smoking
  • telling your GP if you’ve any worries about your bowel habits

More about the causes and risk factors of bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is more common in people over 50 years of age, especially men.

Your screening invitation

If you’re eligible, the Scottish Bowel Screening Centre will send you a free test kit to your home address. This is the address you used to register with your GP.

If you've moved house, you should register with a new GP as soon as possible so that you don't miss your screening invitation.

Screening in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Screening in Scotland is different from the screening offered in the rest of the UK.

How bowel screening's done in England and Wales

How bowel screening's done in Northern Ireland

Benefits and risks

As with any test, there are benefits and risks involved in bowel screening. It’s important that you’re aware of these before you accept a screening invitation.

Benefits

The screening test can be done in the privacy of your own home, and can help to find:

  • bowel cancer early, even if you don't have symptoms — 9 out of 10 people survive bowel cancer if it's found and treated early
  • changes in the bowel — such as non-cancerous growths called polyps

Most polyps can be removed and often prevent future cancers from developing.

Risks

The bowel screening test will pick up most cases of bowel cancer but can't find them all. The test looks for hidden blood in your poo and not all cancers bleed. Changes can also happen between screening tests.

This means cancer can sometimes be missed, so it’s important that you:

Colonoscopy

If your test results need further investigation, you'll be offered a colonoscopy.

If you're invited for a colonoscopy, you'll receive information about the benefits and risks of the procedure before your appointment.

More about test results and colonoscopy

Taking the test

The home test is a quick and easy way for you to send one small sample of your poo to a laboratory at the Scottish Bowel Screening Centre for testing.

Before the test

If you’re eligible, the Scottish Bowel Screening Centre will send you a free test kit to your home address every 2 years. This is the address you used to register with your GP.

Bowelscreengtest
Bowel screening test kit used in Scotland NHS Health Scotland

Collecting your sample

The test can be done in the privacy of your own home. Collect one sample of poo only, using the kit provided, and put the finished test in the pre-paid envelope and post it as soon as possible.

Please read all instructions carefully and do not insert the test kit into your body.

How to do the bowel screening test (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLASx2S4sxQ)

Watch Cancer Research UK's step by step video guide to the bowel screening test.

If you've made a mistake, misplaced, or didn’t receive your screening test kit, you can request a replacement test kit by contacting the Scottish Bowel Screening Centre

After the test

They'll send you your test results within 2 weeks.

If you don't receive your results letter, or have questions about your results, contact the Scottish Bowel Screening Centre:

  • by phone - 0800 0121 833 (open Monday to Friday, 8.00am to 5.00pm)
  • by textphone - 18001 0800 0121 833 (open Monday to Friday, 8.00am to 5.00pm)
  • by email - TAY.scottishbowelscreening@nhs.scot

Test results

After returning the test, the Scottish Bowel Screening Centre will send you the results within 2 weeks.

Most people will be told that they don't need any further investigation. If this happens you'll be sent another test every 2 years until you turn 75.

If you don't receive your results letter, or have questions about your results, contact the Scottish Bowel Screening Centre:

  • by phone - 0800 0121 833 (open Monday to Friday, 8.00am to 5.00pm)
  • by textphone - 18001 0800 0121 833 (open Monday to Friday, 8.00am to 5.00pm)
  • by email - TAY.scottishbowelscreening@nhs.scot

Further investigation

If the amount of blood found in your poo sample is above the normal screening limit, you'll be referred for an outpatient hospital appointment called a colonoscopy.

Colonoscopy

A colonoscopy is an examination of the bowel using a thin, flexible tube with a camera on the end. It’s the most effective way of looking for the cause of bleeding.

A colonoscopy takes about half an hour and will require an outpatient appointment, so you shouldn’t need to stay in hospital for more than a few hours.

Before coming to the hospital you'll need to empty your bowel. You'll be given clear instructions about how to do this before your appointment.

If you're invited for a colonoscopy, you'll receive information about the benefits and risks of the procedure before your appointment.

Colonoscopy results

After your colonoscopy, a health professional will tell you the results and explain any findings to you before you leave.

For every 500 people who take the test, only 10 will need to go for further investigation. Of these 10, only one will have bowel cancer.

Other formats

Public Health Scotland has produced the following resources:

A leaflet explaining what you need to know about the bowel screening test

This leaflet is available in the following languages and formats:

A letter with instructions explaining how to complete the test

This letter is available in the following languages and formats:

A leaflet about your colonoscopy appointment during coronavirus

This leaflet is available in the following languages and formats:

Email phs.otherformats@phs.scot to request other formats.

Last updated:
13 June 2022

Other languages and formats

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