Campaign to help detect bowel cancer early

Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer or colon cancer, is any cancer that affects the colon (large bowel) and rectum (back passage).

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in Scotland with around 4,000 people diagnosed each year, which accounts for 13.5 per cent of all cancers in Scotland. In 2010, 3,967 were diagnosed with bowel cancer, of which 2,177 (55 per cent) were in men and 1,790 (45 per cent) in women.

One in 19 people will get bowel cancer at some point in their lives.

Nine out of ten people (93 per cent) survive bowel cancer if it is detected and treated early enough. The best way to detect it early is through screening. This figure is based on the five-year survival for early stage disease (Dukes’ A which we would describe as stage 1).

The Scottish Bowel Screening programme invites men and women aged 50 – 74 who are registered with a GP, to participate in screening every two years – it’s the best way to detect blood in the bowel movements/poo/stools, which can be a sign of bowel cancer.

Currently only just over half of the 750,000 who are eligible to participate in screening each year actually do (54.5 per cent).

What do you have to do to screen?

You will get a pack through the post containing cardboard sticks, freepost return envelope and a red and white test kit. The test can be done at home, in private and takes three visits to the toilet.

Catch your poo in clean toilet paper or throwaway carton such as a paper plate or takeaway box and use one of the sticks to take a small sample (the size of a pea)

Spread it over the first window of the test kit

Throw away the rest of your poo down the toilet

Wash your hands thoroughly

You need to do this another two times within a ten day period, writing the date on the front of the kit.

After collecting the third sample, put the kit in the free return envelope and seal it.

Post your kit

All men and women between 50 and 74 are sent one every two years. If you’re between these ages – and you haven’t completed one in the last two years - you can find out about getting one by calling the helpline.

If you have an old kit that you haven’t used, or have messed up the sample, please call the Scottish Bowel Screening Helpline on 0800 0121 833 for advice about getting a new kit.

What happens next?

The Scottish Bowel Screening Centre will send you the result within two weeks. Most people will have a negative result, which means that no blood was found in the samples you provided. If your test is positive, you will be contacted by a health professional or your GP practice.

About 10 out of 500 people taking the test will have blood in their bowel motion. When these 10 people have the recommended follow up tests, it is likely that one person will have cancer. Although it won’t detect every single case of bowel cancer, participating in the programme is the best way of detecting bowel cancer and at its earliest stage.

Bowel cancer tends to be hidden at the early stages but sometimes there are signs that something is wrong. Look out for these signs, particularly in between screenings:

Repeated bleeding from your bottom

Or, blood in your poo (don’t just flush away your poo without looking at it)

A recent change in your poo that continues for over six weeks, without going back to normal

Watery poo or alternating runnier poo with constipation (constipation on its own is less likely to be serious)

Severe pain in your stomach that won’t go away, especially after eating

You’ve recently lost weight without trying

People say you look pale and you feel tired a lot

People over 50 are more at risk of getting bowel cancer – it’s a risk that occurs as you age. However, there are other factors that put you at risk that you can change.

Key Messages

The early signs of bowel cancer are often hidden.

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in Scotland.

When detected at an early stage, bowel cancer is highly treatable – nine out of ten people survive bowel cancer if it’s caught early (93 per cent)

People are more at risk of bowel cancer as they age (over 50).

The Scottish bowel screening programme invites ALL men and women aged between 50 and 74, for screening every two years

Bowel cancer screening prevents 150 deaths from bowel cancer each year

Don’t Take A Chance, Take the Test

For information on the screening programme, contact the Scottish Bowel Screening Helpline on 0800 0121 833 or visit

The home screening test is the best way to detect signs of blood hidden in your poo/bowel movements long before you or your doctor may notice them

Although routine screening runs from age 50 to age 74, from April 2013, you will still be able to request a screening kit if you are over 74

It’s important that you participate in the screening programme every two years but changes can happen in between one screening and the next

Never ignore changes to your health - don’t delay in making an appointment with your GP if you spot any unusual or persistent changes to your bowel movements, even in between screenings.

The screening kit will come in the post – recognise that it’s the test and know that it’s the best way to find hidden signs of bowel cancer

Fast Facts

Can I reduce my risk of bowel cancer? Yes, there are things you can do to lower your risk of bowel cancer:-

Take a home test every two years. If you’re 50-74, we’ll send you a letter and test kit when it’s time

Eat high-fibre foods like wholemeal bread, cereal or beans

Don’t eat red and processed meat more than three or four times a week (red meat includes steak, mince, chops and sausages and processed meats have flavours added like ham, bacon, hot dogs or salami).

Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

Walk for about 30 minutes every day.

Keep to a healthy weight.

Limit your alcohol to less than three units a day for men and less than two units a day for women. And have two alcohol-free days every week. To see what a unit is, visit

If you smoke, there is lots of support available to help you stop. Call Smokeline on 0800 84 84 84 or visit to find out more