Bowel Cancer Screening in the Countries of the UK

Bowel cancer is still more likely to be diagnosed later in the UK. The earlier it is found, the easier it is to treat. The NHS organises screening for bowel cancer, sending out kits for people when they reach the right age. Symptoms can include stomach pain, changes to bowel habits or blood in the faeces or poo. If you suspect that you may have similar symptoms, then make an appointment to see your GP, especially if you are outside the age ranges for screening. If there is a family history of bowel cancer, you are also best to see your GP

Bowel Cancer Screening in the Countries of the UK


Bowel cancer is the fourth biggest cancer in Wales, and the second biggest killer, with 2,200 people being diagnosed with the disease every year. The NHS invites people aged between 60-74 years of age to submit a test for analysis every 2 years. The test is designed to be done at home and then sent off. Results should be returned after two weeks. The screening programme has been shown to help reduce the risk of bowel cancer being found later. The test used is currently the FOBT or Faecal Occult Blood Test but the FIT or Faecal Immunochemical Test will be gradually phased in during January 2019. Full roll-out is expected by June 2019. People over 75 can call and ask for a test to be sent.

Information is offered in British Sign Language, Welsh, English, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Gujarati, Hindu, Italian, Japanese, Nepali, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Somalian, Turkish and Urdu. There is information for carers.

In June 2019, Wales will become the first country in the UK to test all bowel cancer patients for Lynch syndrome. People who carry the gene have a 80% risk of developing bowel cancer, but currently less than 5% of people who suffer from Lynch syndrome know that they are at risk.


3D Printed Portion of Bowel Anatomy Model.


In Scotland, the age at which people are invited for screening is between 50 and 74 years of age, 10 years younger than the other countries. The tests take place every two years. Scotland has also replaced the original test which was the FOB test with the FIT test since November 2017.

NHS Scotland acknowledges that uptake of the test is lowest among men and in the most deprived Scottish areas. People aged between 50-54 are also least likely to take up the test. The Scottish health board suggests that the new bowel cancer screening test is simpler to complete than the previous test, as it is more sensitive and only requires one sample. Rates of people sending back their test have improved - 64% of people sent it back from November 2017 to April 2018, compared to 56% the previous year.

There are guides for carers of people with learning disabilities and people with dementia, and there are also resources for professionals. The information is also available as a video, audio and British Sign Language.

Northern Ireland

The bowel cancer screening test is sent out every two years to people aged between 60-74 years. Currently people are sent the FOB test but it has just been announced that from 2020, people in Northern Ireland will be sent the FIT test as in Scotland. NHS Northern Ireland hope that the uptake of people sending back the test will improve in a similar way to Scotland. The country is also looking at lowering the age at which the tests are first sent out, in the future.


People aged between 60 and 74 years of age are currently sent the test. People 75 and older can request a test. NHS England have begun the roll-out of FIT testing, but people may also be sent the older FOB test too.

NHS England is also rolling out a one-off test that will eventually be offered to all men and women, called bowel scope screening. This involves a camera inserted into the anus to check for unusual signs or polyps. The video is shown on a screen. Polyps can be removed at this stage and checked for cancer. The test is painless, although it may be uncomfortable. People aged 55 will be offered this test, but only once, if it is available in their area. It is hoped that everyone will be able to be offered it eventually. Research has shown that the test can be effective in finding bowel cancer early. If people do not want to have the test, they can choose to have it up to age 60. Around 95% of people have a normal result. Further tests would be offered if the results were not normal or polyps were found.

NHS England are also discussing how best to increase the scope of the screening by offering the test to people when they are 50, bringing it into line with Scotland.

If you require cancer information in another language, then you can find it at Macmillan cancer support where you can find a number of different downloadable information leaflets.

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