If bowel cancer is detected at an early stage, before symptoms appear, it's easier to treat and there's a better chance of surviving it.
To detect cases of bowel cancer sooner, the NHS offers two types of bowel cancer screening to adults registered with a GP in England:
Taking part in bowel cancer screening reduces your chances of dying from bowel cancer, and removing polyps in bowel scope screening can prevent cancer. However, all screening involves a balance of potential harms, as well as benefits. It's up to you to decide if you want to have it.
To help you decide, read on to learn about what the two tests involve, what the different possible results mean, and the potential risks for you to weigh up.
The home testing kit is used to collect tiny stool samples on a special card. The card is then sealed in a hygienic freepost envelope and sent to the screening laboratory.
It will be checked for traces of blood that may not be visible to the naked eye, but could be an early sign of bowel cancer.
For more information, read what the FOB screening test involves.
You'll receive the results of your FOB test within two weeks of sending in the test kit. There are three types of result:
Read more about FOB test results.
People aged 75 and older can still be screened for bowel cancer. They can request an FOB screening kit by calling the freephone helpline on 0800 707 60 60.
People younger than 60 aren't eligible for the FOB screening test, but can have bowel scope screening (see below). If you have symptoms, are worried about a family history of bowel cancer, or worried about your bowel health in any way, speak to your GP.
Bowel scope screening is done by a specially trained nurse or doctor at an NHS bowel cancer screening centre.
The doctor or nurse will put a thin flexible tube into your bottom to look inside the lower part of your bowel and remove any small growths, called polyps, that could eventually turn into cancer.
Read more about bowel scope screening.
You'll receive the results of your bowel scope screening test within two weeks of your appointment.
Read more about bowel scope screening results.
No screening test is 100% reliable. There's a chance a cancer can be missed if it wasn't bleeding when the screening test was taken. This means you might be falsely reassured.
Bowel scope screening is usually safe, but in rare cases it can cause harm to the bowel. Learn more about the risks of bowel scope screening.
If you get an abnormal result, you'll be offered a colonoscopy. Although rare, there are risks associated with having this investigation. Most people who have a colonoscopy will not have cancer. Learn more about having a colonoscopy (PDF, 270kb).
Call the bowel screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60:
If you have a question about bowel cancer screening, you can also check to see if it’s already been answered in our FAQs.