Bowel screening

Bowel screening in Scotland

Information about and instructions for completing the bowel screening test.

About bowel screening

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

You will be invited to complete the bowel screening test if you:

  • are 50 to 74 years old
  • are living in Scotland
  • haven’t been screened in the last 2 years

If you’re 75 or over you’ll no longer be invited to take a bowel screening test. But, you can still take a bowel screening test every 2 years. You’ll need to request a new test kit each time as the Scottish Bowel Screening Centre won’t send you one.

Reducing the risk of bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is more common in people over 50 years of age, especially men and those assigned male at birth (AMAB).

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

Your screening invitation

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.

What does bowel screening 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.

Benefits and risks of bowel screening

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 
  • changes in the bowel — such as non-cancerous growths called polyps

Most polyps can be removed, and this can prevent future cancers from developing. 9 out of 10 people survive bowel cancer if it’s found and treated early.

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:

  • repeat the screening test every 2 years
  • never ignore the symptoms of bowel cancer, like blood in your poo, a change in bowel habits and abdominal (tummy) pain
Getting a screening kit

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.

Requesting another bowel screening kit

If you’ve made a mistake, misplaced, or didn’t receive your screening test kit, you can request a replacement test kit by completing the request a bowel screening test kit online form.

Alternatively, you can also ask for a test kit by contacting the Scottish Bowel Screening Centre:

If you can’t reach a member of staff by phone, you can still order a test kit using the automated service (available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year).

When asking for a kit, please give your:

  • name
  • date of birth
  • address
  • contact details

Collecting your sample

Do

  • make sure you fill in the label at the top of your letter and stick it to your kit, before posting
  • make sure you write the date you took the sample on your test label

Don’t

  • do not insert the test kit into your body
  • do not write your date of birth on the test label
What you’ll be sent

The bowel screening test kit includes:

  • a small tube test to collect your poo sample
  • full instructions to help you complete the test
  • a pre-paid small yellow padded envelope
What you’ll need to do the test

To do the test you’ll need:

  • your test
  • the small label from your letter
  • a pen
  • something to help you collect your sample

To collect your poo sample you could use toilet paper placed in the toilet or an empty and clean plastic container like an ice cream or margarine tub.

Preparing for the test

Before you collect your sample:

  1. take your label from the front of your letter
  2. stick it on the side of the test marked with the ‘+’
  3. write the date you take the test on the other side of the tube

If you don’t stick the label on the side of the test, the screening centre won’t know the sample belongs to you. If this happens, you’ll need to repeat the test. 

Collecting your sample

To collect a sample:

  1. Catch your poo using toilet paper or a container.
  2. Twist the top of the test to open it – the lid of the test has a stick attached.
  3. Take a small sample of poo using the stick making sure both holes on the stick are covered. Do not overload the stick.
  4. Put the stick back into the tube and twist it to close.
  5. Flush the toilet paper, or bag and bin any container used.
Posting your sample

Make sure you’ve:

  • put the label on the test
  • written the date on the test
  • screwed the top on the test
  • written the date you collected your sample on the test

If you don’t stick the label on the side of the test, the screening centre won’t know the sample belongs to you. If this happens, you’ll need to repeat the test. 

Then put the finished test with the label on it in the prepaid envelope and post it as soon as possible.

After the test

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

You will receive 1 of 2 results:

  • no further investigation needed
  • further investigation needed

If you haven’t received your test results after 2 weeks, please contact the Scottish Bowel Screening Centre.

No further investigation needed

If you’re told that there’s no further investigation needed, your results have not shown any signs of bowel cancer.

Because the test can miss certain cancers, and changes can happen between screening tests, it’s important that you:

  • repeat the screening test every 2 years
  • never ignore the symptoms of bowel cancer, like blood in your poo, a change in bowel habits and abdominal (tummy) pain
Further investigation needed

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.

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.

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.

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