Overview

Bowel screening is offered to men and women across Scotland to help find and treat bowel cancer early. If found early enough, there’s more than a 90% chance of successful treatment.

In Scotland, bowel screening prevents 150 deaths from bowel cancer each year.

Who's at risk?

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

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

  • eating a diet that’s high in fibre-rich foods (wholemeal bread, cereal or beans) and low in red and processed meat
  • staying as lean as possible within the healthy weight range
  • aiming for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise (like brisk walking) each day
  • limiting your daily alcohol intake and having 2 alcohol-free days per week
  • telling your GP if you’ve any worries about your bowel habits

More about bowel cancer

Who'll be screened?

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

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

More about bowel polyps

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.

Bowel screening test: Everything you need to know (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cMQxCFpiag)

Watch our video explaining everything you need to know about the Scottish Bowel Screening Programme.

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 help to find:

  • 2 out of 3 existing bowel cancers
  • changes in the bowel — such as non-cancerous growths called polyps

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

Risks

It’s important to remember that:

  • the screening test looks for blood, and some cancers or polyps don’t bleed all of the time
  • changes can also happen in-between screening tests

This means cancer can sometimes be missed, so it’s important that you repeat the screening test every 2 years, and never ignore symptoms that could indicate bowel cancer — like blood in your stools (poo), a change in bowel habits and abdominal (tummy) pain.

Colonoscopy

If your test results are abnormal, the Scottish Bowel Screening Centre will offer you a colonoscopy. There are some risks of complications when you have a colonoscopy, but these are rare.

Most people offered a colonoscopy won’t have cancer.

Taking the test

The home test is a clean and simple way for you to send small samples of your bowel motion (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. 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. It requires 3 visits to the toilet to complete and return.

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.

Negative result

Most people that take the test have a ‘negative’ result, which means:

  • no blood was found in their bowel motion
  • there’s no evidence of bowel cancer or polyps

If this is the case:

  • you won’t need any further investigations or treatment
  • they'll tell your GP
  • you'll be invited to be screened again within 2 years

Positive result

If the test finds blood in your bowel motion, this doesn’t mean you have cancer, but you’ll need more tests to find the cause.

If this is the case, they'll inform your GP and write to you to:

  • tell you what happens next
  • explain the next stage of tests

About 10 in 500 people that take the test will have blood found in their bowel motion.

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 only requires an outpatient appointment, so you shouldn’t need to stay in hospital for more than a few hours.

If you need this test, a health professional will explain any risks to you 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.

Of the 10 people that had blood found in their bowel motion, 5 will be clear of cancer and bowel polyps (non-cancerous growths). This is called a false-positive result.

Of the remaining 5 people:

  • 4 will test positive for bowel polyps
  • 1 will be diagnosed with bowel cancer

False-positive results

A false-positive result is when the test shows blood in the bowel motion (poo), but follow-up tests show no cancer or polyps.

About 1 in 100 people taking the test will have a false-positive result.

Inconclusive result

If some blood was found in your poo, but not enough to need investigating, they’ll ask you to take a second test. This is quite common and doesn’t always mean there’s a problem.

If you agree to take a second test, they'll send you a new test kit.

Further information

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

The helpline is open from Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm. If there’s nobody available to take your call, please leave a voicemail message, and a member of staff will return your call.

Every call is confidential.