Population screening programmes – guidance

Bowel cancer screening: programme overview

Read an overview of the NHS bowel cancer screening programme (BCSP), and learn how to contact the programme.

Screening is the process of identifying people who appear healthy but may be at increased risk of a disease or condition.

The bowel cancer screening programme (BCSP) is an NHS population screening programme.

No screening test is 100% accurate, there will always be some false positive and false negative results.

The NHS BCSP offers screening every 2 years to all men and women aged 60 to 74.

NHS Choices has more information about bowel cancer, including:

  • an introduction to the disease
  • symptoms
  • incidence
  • mortality rates

Evidence and recommendations

The UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) assesses evidence and makes recommendations for population screening programmes to the 4 UK governments.

In April 2011 the UK NSC recommended the addition of bowel scope screening alongside the existing faecal occult blood test.

Research committee

The NHS bowel cancer screening research committee works to:

  • ensure the feasibility of scientific research arising from the screening programme
  • encourage collaboration between researchers
  • avoid unnecessary duplication of research

Screening test

People eligible for screening receive an invitation letter explaining the programme, along with an information leaflet explaining the benefits and risks of bowel cancer screening.

About a week later, the programme should send a faecal occult blood sampling kit. The kit includes simple instructions for:

  • completing sampling at home
  • sending the samples to the laboratory

The sample is then processed and the results sent to the individual within 2 weeks.

Colonoscopy

Healthcare professionals should offer patients with an abnormal screening result a colonoscopy. This procedure is an investigation that involves looking directly at the lining of the large bowel.

The quality assurance guidelines for colonoscopy explain how to complete the procedure.

If the procedure finds polyps, a wire loop passed down the colonoscope tube can remove them.

This process is painless on most occasions and these tissue samples must be tested for any abnormal cells that may be cancerous.

Bowel scope screening

The programme is also rolling out bowel scope screening to all men and women in England aged 55.

Healthcare professionals should explain to people that this new test is not yet available everywhere across the country. The target is for all screening centres to be operational by December 2016.

Providing prompt care

Healthcare professionals must use the BCSP professional documents to offer a consistent and competent service.

GPs are not directly involved in the delivery of the NHS BCSP but they receive a copy of the results letters sent to their patients.

Commissioning

All commissioners must follow the service specification and supporting documents to ensure a fit for purpose programme is set up and is meeting the standards set by the national screening programme.

Contact the screening team

Members of the public who have questions can call the bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60.

You can ring this number to request a screening kit if you are 75 or over.

For other enquiries please contact:

NHS population screening helpdesk

Public Health England Zone B
Floor 2 Skipton House
80 London Road

London
SE1 6LH

Please note the helpdesk is not for media enquiries.

The helpdesk and national programmes do not have access to screening results.

Parents: contact your midwife or health visitor for information on screening results.

Health professionals: contact the local screening team, screening laboratory or local child health records department.