Screening for colon and rectal cancer
The earlier bowel cancer is diagnosed and treated, the more likely it is that treatment will be successful.
In the UK, a national screening programme to detect bowel cancer has been introduced. All men and women aged between 60 and 69 (50 and 74 in Scotland) are offered a faecal occult blood (FOB) test every two years. Older people won’t routinely be invited to take part, but are encouraged to request a FOB test every two years. If you’re over 70, you can call the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme Helpline on 0800 707 6060 to request a screening kit.
The test doesn’t diagnose bowel cancer but can detect tiny amounts of blood, which you can’t normally see in your bowel motions (stools). Occult blood means ‘hidden blood’. Bowel cancers and polyps can sometimes bleed, which is why screening looks for blood in your bowel motions. People who have a positive FOB test (have blood in their stools) are invited to have a colonoscopy. This lets doctors have a closer look at the bowel. Most blood in the bowel motions is caused by polyps, not by cancer.
Find out more in our section about bowel cancer screening.