Information on the programme, including commissioning, quality assurance, education and training.
Applies to England
Public information about bowel cancer screening is available on the NHS website and in the below videos. Members of the public can call the free bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60.
Public Health England (PHE) is committed to reducing inequalities and variation in participation to help make sure everyone has fair and equal access to screening services.
PHE has also published information about patient confidentiality in population screening programmes.
Bowel cancer screening is offered every 2 years to men and women aged 60 to 74. People older than this can ask for a screening kit every 2 years by calling the free helpline on 0800 707 60 60.
Previously, some people aged 55 were invited for bowel scope screening. This is a test where a healthcare professional uses a tube with a camera to look inside the bowel. Bowel scope screening is no longer offered as part of the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme.
In August 2018, ministers agreed that in the future bowel cancer screening in England will start at the age of 50. The NHS is starting to reduce the age range for bowel cancer screening from April 2021.
Condition screened for
Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel. Depending on where it starts, bowel cancer is sometimes called colon or rectal cancer. The NHS website has more information, including:
- symptoms of bowel cancer
- causes of bowel cancer
- treatment for bowel cancer
The screening test
Faecal immunochemical test
A new test kit called the faecal immunochemical test (FIT) was introduced in England in June 2019. This kit is now sent with all invitations for bowel cancer screening.
People eligible for bowel cancer screening get an invitation letter, along with an information leaflet explaining screening and its possible benefits and risks.
About a week later, the programme sends a FIT kit with instructions on how to use it at home. Results are sent out 2 weeks after the laboratory receives the completed kit.
The screening programme offers individuals with an abnormal screening result a colonoscopy.
The quality assurance guidelines for colonoscopy provide guidance on standards and performance indicators in colonoscopy.
Bowel cancer screening is one of 11 NHS national population screening programmes available in England.
The UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) makes recommendations to ministers in the 4 UK countries on all aspects of population screening. It ensures that screening provides more benefit than harm, at a reasonable cost to the NHS.
Data and intelligence
Requests for screening data and research
All requests for screening data need to be approved by the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme Research Advisory Committee.
PHE also has terms of reference for NHS population screening programme research advisory committees.
PHE publishes the bowel cancer screening pathway requirements specification, which provides an overview of bowel cancer screening by describing what should happen at each stage of the end-to-end pathway. Providers and commissioners should use this to ensure high quality and consistent screening services
The role of the screening quality assurance service is to:
- assess the quality of local screening programmes
- monitor compliance with standards
- support services with improving quality
- undertake regional level quality assurance visits
The programme specific operating model for quality assurance of the bowel cancer screening programme should be read in conjunction with the operating model for PHE screening quality assurance service: 2015/16 to 2017/18 and the relevant programme standards.
Workforce – education and training
Education and training resources are available for healthcare professionals working in bowel cancer screening.
There are also more general resources to support screening professionals in their initial training and continuing professional development (CPD).
It is an individual’s choice whether or not to have screening. People can opt out if they do not want to receive screening invitations.
Keep up to date
Follow PHE Screening on Twitter for information and news on all national screening programmes.
Contact the screening team
Population screening helpdesk
The helpdesk is not for media enquiries and does not have access to screening results. For queries about results, contact your GP or local screening service. Order screening leaflets at www.gov.uk/phe/screening-leaflets.