Bowel Screening

NHS bowel screening is a way of testing healthy people to see if they show any early signs of cancer. It's available to everyone aged 60 or over. From April 2021 the NHS is starting to reduce the age range for bowel cancer screening to anyone aged 50 & over. 

You use a home test kit, called a faecal immunochemical test (FIT), to collect a small sample of poo and send it to a lab. This is checked for tiny amounts of blood.

Blood can be a sign of polyps or bowel cancer. Polyps are growths in the bowel. They are not cancer, but may turn into cancer over time.

If the test finds anything unusual, you might be asked to have further tests to confirm or rule out cancer.

Always see a GP if you have symptoms of bowel cancer at any age, even if you have recently completed a NHS bowel cancer screening test kit – do not wait to have a screening test.

Bowel Cancer UK Poster

The symptoms of bowel cancer can be subtle and do not necessarily make you feel ill. However, it's worth trying simple treatments for a short time to see if they get better.

More than 90% of people with bowel cancer have 1 of the following combinations of symptoms:

  • a persistent change in bowel habit – pooing more often, with looser, runnier poos and sometimes tummy (abdominal) pain
  • blood in the poo without other symptoms of piles (haemorrhoids) – this makes it unlikely the cause is haemorrhoids
  • abdominal pain, discomfort or bloating always brought on by eating – sometimes resulting in a reduction in the amount of food eaten and weight loss

Constipation, where you pass harder stools less often, is rarely caused by serious bowel conditions. Most people with these symptoms do not have bowel cancer.

See a GP if you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer for 3 weeks or more.

How to do bowel screening in England infographic

Tips for collecting your poo infographic

You can download these infographics here for further information.


Page last updated August 2023

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