Overview

Bowel screening is offered to men and women aged 50 to 74 across Scotland to help find bowel cancer early when it can often be cured. You're 14 times more likely to survive bowel cancer if it's found early.

Half a million people in Scotland do their bowel screening test each year.

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.

It's more common in people over 50 years of age, especially men.

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:

More about bowel cancer

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.

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.

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

Your guide to the bowel cancer screening test in Scotland. Find out how to do the test including how to collect the sample and what happens after the test.

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.

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, the Scottish Bowel Screening Centre will offer you 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.

During the test

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

How to use the home test kit

Replacement test kits

If you've made a mistake, misplaced or didn’t receive your screening test, 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.

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.

You can request further information about your test result from the Scottish Bowel Screening Centre.

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.

Further information

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 by:

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.

Bowel screening leaflet and letter

NHS Health Scotland has produced a leaflet explaining what you need to know about the bowel screening test and a letter with instructions explaining how to complete the test.

The leaflet and letter are available in Easy Read English, Polish, Chinese and Urdu.

Bowel screening leaflet

Bowel screening letter with instructions

Audio leaflet and letter

British Sign Language (BSL) leaflet and letter

BSL Bowel Screening Booklet (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNgvF0HI2wc)

NHS Health Scotland have produced a BSL version of the Bowel Screening leaflet explaining what you need to know about the bowel screening test.

BSL Bowel Screening Letter (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGUqKDC1rs8)

NHS Health Scotland have produced a BSL version of the Bowel Screening letter and instructions detailing how to do the test and how to collect your sample.