Bowel Screening FAQ

If you have haemorrhoids (piles) at the moment then there’s more chance that you will get an abnormal result. An abnormal result may be due to blood from your haemorrhoids or from another bowel condition. Anyone with an abnormal result is offered colonoscopy in order get a diagnosis.

No, the invitations are generated by a system which only has the basic registration details held when you register with a GP. Any additional medical history is only accessed with your permission.

The colon is part of the digestive system and stores waste material before passing it out through the rectum. (Click here for a video describing this process.) People who do not have a functioning colon cannot do this and need to make continuous use of a pouch/colostomy bag.

You may have to use a colostomy bag temporarily, eg following treatment. If so, you should be screened in the usual way, when invited, once it is removed.

If, having read this, you’re still unsure whether you have a functioning colon you should check with your GP before accepting a screening invitation.

I have had bowel surgery. Do I need to continue with bowel screening?

Screening is designed chiefly to check the health of your colon. If you have a functioning colon you should therefore continue with bowel screening. People with no functioning colon do not need to be screened.

If you’re unsure whether or not you have a functioning colon, the next FAQ offers more information. How can I tell if I have a functioning colon?

There are things that we can change in order to reduce the risk of getting bowel cancer and eating a healthy diet is one of them. Unfortunately, there are other risks that we cannot influence, such as a family history of cancer, a genetic predisposition to cancer, increased age, or a history of polyps or inflammatory bowel disease (such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis).

Eight out of ten people who get bowel cancer are over the age of sixty, so the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme is aimed at people aged 60 and over.

The two year gap between screening invitations is calculated from the date on which your previous screening episode was closed. In some cases (eg if you had further tests) this could be several months after you received your screening invitation. This, in turn, could delay your next invitation by several months

No, you will not have been missed. Screening kits are sent out according to your date of birth and not your year of birth. Call the freephone 0800 707 6060 to find out when you will receive yours.

We recommend a discussion with their GP in the first instance, as he/ she has access to their medical records and knowledge of their overall medical health. In general, however

  • some people’s mental capacity varies, in which case the decision about screening should be delayed until the individual is more able to decide for him or herself
  • but if the person you care for is unable to make their own decisions about screening, then you, as their carer, should make what is called a ‘best interests’ decision on their behalf (just as you may be making other decisions about their care and treatment). You will need to weigh up the benefits of screening, the possible harms, and what you think the person him or herself would have wanted. Paid carers in particular should get advice from family members or friends about the person’s views before coming to a decision. Whether you are a paid carer, or an unpaid carer, family member or close friend, this process is the same.

To find out more about the bowel cancer screening process, please read our leaflets Bowel cancer screening – the facts, and The colonoscopy investigation. You can also watch a video about bowel cancer and the colonoscopy investigation or telephone the free helpline for advice, on 0800 707 60 60.

For more information on making a best interests decision, you can read Making decisions: A guide for family, friends and other unpaid carers [PDF 390Kb] from the Office of the Public Guardian. Making decisions: A guide for people who work in health and social care [PDF 320Kb] also provides useful information.

To find out more on consenting to screening, please read our Consent to cancer screening guidance.

If the person has asked for help, understands the screening process (including the bowel examination), and does not have a medical condition that means they shouldn’t be screened, then the answer is yes. If the person doesn’t understand the screening process, however, and/or doesn’t have the capacity to consent to it, please read the next FAQ (16) for more information and advice

No. The English NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme is available only to people aged 60 years and over who are based in England. It cannot screen people who are below this age or who live elsewhere. (Click on the links for details of the bowel screening programmes in Northern Ireland, Wales and in Scotland.)

If you are worried about symptoms such as a persistent change in bowel habit, pain in your abdomen, bleeding from the back passage, tiredness or weight loss, or are worried about your bowel health in any way, you shouldn’t wait for screening. You should speak to your GP, who can arrange for referral to a specialist if necessary.

The Bowel Cancer Screening Programme is unable to screen you early; you have to wait for your invitation. But if you have symptoms, or are worried about your bowel health in any way and do not want to wait, then speak to your GP. This is the quickest way of getting any health problems checked out.

If you are aged 60-69 years, you will be sent your screening invitation automatically through the post. All you need to do is make sure that your GP has your correct address. Screening is now being offered to people aged 70-74 years but it will take until the end of 2014 before all invitations are sent out. People aged 70 years and over who want to be screened before then should request a kit. Simply telephone the free helpline on 0800 707 60 60.

No, it’s just that not all invitations can be sent out at once. Populations have been divided into age groups, and invitations have been spread over the first two years of screening. This means that some people may wait up to two years for their first screening invitation. They are sent out around the time of your birthday. But after the first invitation, you will be invited every two years.

Don’t forget–if you are worried about possible symptoms, don’t wait for screening but speak to your GP.

The timing of your invitation depends on your age. We expect all invitations for people aged 60-69 years to be sent out by the end of 2012. Invitations for people aged 70-74 should be sent out by the end of 2014.

If you have symptoms such as a persistent change in bowel habit, pain in your abdomen, bleeding from the back passage, tiredness or weight loss, or if you are worried about your bowel health in any way, then you should not wait for screening but contact your GP.

By 2014 the screening service will be available automatically to everyone aged between 70 and 74 years. If you are aged 70 years or over and want to be screened before then, you can request an FOBt kit. Simply telephone the free helpline

Eight out of ten people who get bowel cancer are over the age of sixty so the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme is aimed at people aged 60 to 69. If you are concerned about your family history, or risk of developing bowel cancer, you should see your GP.

Click to see an animated film about the Bowel Cancer Screening Test Kit (FOBt) and how to use it.

No; the Faecal Occult Blood test (FOBt) does not diagnose bowel cancer. However, the results of the FOBt will show whether you need a bowel examination (a colonoscopy) to rule out bowel cancer.

Can you tell me more about bowel cancer screening?

Click for more detailed information about bowel cancer screening explaining how the screening process works, the FOB test and the colonoscopy procedure.

This video shows the bowel in detail. It also gives detailed information about having a bowel examination (colonoscopy) and shows how polyps are detected and removed.

Back to frequently asked questions

You do not need to do anything. If you are in your sixties you will automatically be invited to complete a test kit. Exactly when it is sent will depend on your date of birth. It can take up to two years for every eligible person in an area to be invited, but most areas will have sent out invitations to all those eligible by the end of 2012. In the meantime, if you have any concerns about your bowel health you should see your GP.