Bowel scope screening

Bowel scope screening is used to examine the lower part of the bowel. It can help detect bowel polyps and bowel cancers at an early stage. It is not a replacement for the FOB or FIT tests.

Before the bowel scope screening, you will get a letter with an enema and instructions for using it. The enema clears out the lower part of the bowel, which makes it easier for the nurse or doctor to see inside your bowel.

Bowel scope screening uses a bendy tube with a light and camera on the end (sigmoidoscope) to see inside the bowel. If you are uncomfortable during the test, you can have gas and air to help with this. The doctor or nurse will remove any polyps they find or take biopsies of abnormal areas. You can go home after the test is over.

It can take up to three weeks before the results of your bowel scope screening are ready. This can be an anxious time. Try talking to family or friends about how you are feeling.

What is bowel scope screening?

Bowel scope screening is starting to be used in England and is being tested in Scotland. It is not used in Wales or Northern Ireland.

A one-off bowel scope test can help detect bowel polyps and prevent some bowel cancers. It can also help detect bowel cancers at a very early stage, which can reduce the risk of dying from it.

The test looks at the inside of the rectum and the part of the colon closest to the rectum (the sigmoid colon). This is the part of the large bowel where most polyps and cancers develop. You have bowel scope screening as an outpatient at the hospital.

Bowel scope screening only looks at the lower part of your bowel. It does not replace the FOB or FIT home screening test.

Bowel scope screening
Bowel scope screening

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Before bowel scope screening

You will get a letter inviting you to have a bowel scope test. If you accept, your local bowel screening service will contact you. They will explain what the test involves and you can ask them any questions. They will also ask you some questions about your health, to check it is appropriate for you. Then they will give you a date and time for having the test.

After this, you will get a letter with an enema and instructions for using it. The enema is a liquid to clean poo out of the lower part of the bowel. This makes it easier for the nurse or doctor doing the test to see inside your bowel. You use the enema on the day of the test. Most people find it easy to use.


What does bowel scope screening involve?

Bowel scope screening is done with a sigmoidoscope. It is a bendy tube with a light and camera on the end. You lie curled on your left side and a doctor or nurse passes the tube into your back passage. They pump a small amount of air into your bowel to make it easier to see inside. This can make you feel bloated for a few hours afterwards.

You will be given entonox, which is a gas that can relieve pain. It is sometimes called gas and air. You breathe it in through a mouthpiece if you feel any discomfort.

The doctor or nurse will remove any polyps they find during the test. They can also take samples of tissue (biopsies) from any areas of the bowel that look abnormal. The doctor or nurse will tell you at the time if they remove any polyps or take biopsies.

If you have polyps removed or biopsies taken, you will get the results by letter within three weeks.

You can go home after the test is over. Entonox leaves your body quickly so you should be able to drive within 30 minutes of the test ending, if the nurses are happy you have recovered.

It is rare to have complications after the test. But if you have severe tummy pain or a high temperature, pass large amounts of blood or are sick (vomit), contact your GP or the NHS out-of-hours service straight away.


Risks of bowel scope screening

Bowel scope screening is a safe test and most people do not have any problems after it. But, rarely, there can be problems.

About 1 in 250 people have heavy bleeding after having a polyp removed. They may need to go into hospital to have this treated.

Sometimes the bowel can be torn or damaged, but this is rare. You will need an operation to repair the tear if it happens.


Bowel scope results

Normal result

About 285 out of 300 people have a normal result from the test. This means the test found no polyps or anything abnormal in your bowel. You will be told straightaway if your test is normal.

It is important to be aware of bowel cancer symptoms in future, even if you have a normal result.

Polyps

You will be contacted within two to three weeks if you had polyps removed during your bowel scope test. This is to tell you whether you need further tests or follow-up. Your GP will also get a letter with your results.

You could talk to a relative or close friend if you feel anxious when waiting for your results. Or, if you prefer, you can call our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

About 14 out of every 300 people screened will have polyps. The nurse or doctor will usually remove any polyps they find. They will tell you if they have done this.

If you have polyps, you may be offered another test to check all of your large bowel. This test is usually a colonoscopy.

Cancer

Rarely, the screening will find cancer. About 1 in 300 people who have bowel scope screening are found to have cancer. If cancer is found, it is likely to be at an early stage when treatment is most effective. The nurse or doctor will arrange for you to see a specialist as soon as possible.

Back to Bowel screening

The FOB and FIT tests

These tests check poo for tiny amounts of blood. Blood in poo is sometimes a sign of cancer.

Colonoscopy

A colonoscopy is a way of examining the lining of the bowel from the inside.