Bowel Cancer Screening

Coventry & Warwickshire Bowel Screening Centre

How Common is Bowel Cancer?

About 1 in 20 people in the UK will develop bowel cancer during their lifetime. It is the 3rd most common cancer in the UK with 35,000 people being diagnosed each year and the 2nd leading cause of cancer deaths; with over 16,000 people dying from it each year.

Both men and women are at risk of getting bowel cancer. The risk of developing bowel cancer increases with age. 8 out of 10 people who are diagnosed with bowel cancer are over 60. People with a family history of bowel cancer have an increased risk of developing the disease. People who take little exercise, people who are overweight and people who have a diet high in red meat and low in vegetables, fruits and fibre are all thought to have an increased risk of developing bowel cancer.

What is the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme?

Bowel cancer screening aims to detect bowel cancer at an early stage (in people with no symptoms), when treatment is more likely to be effective. Bowel cancer screening can also detect polyps; which are not cancers, but may develop into cancers over time. They can easily be removed, reducing the risk of bowel cancer developing. Regular bowel cancer screening has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from bowel cancer by 16%.

The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme offers screening every two years to all men and women aged 60 to 75. People over 75 can request a screening kit by calling a freephone helpline 0800 7076060. Residents in this age group will be sent an invitation through the post, then their screening kit, so they can complete their test in the privacy of their own home.

After taking part in the NHS UK pilot, University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust having been undertaking the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme since it was introduced in England in July 2006. Coventry and Warwickshire Bowel Cancer Screening Centre covers the population of Coventry, Rugby, North and South Warwickshire.

How Does the Screening Test Work?

The screening test detects tiny amounts of blood, which you cannot normally see, in your bowel motions. Polyps and bowel cancers sometimes bleed, which is why we screen for blood in your bowel motions.
The test does not diagnose bowel cancer, but the results will indicate whether you need an appointment to discuss having a more detailed examination of the bowel (called a colonoscopy).

What Do the Results Mean?

You should receive a results letter within 2 weeks of sending in your sample. There are 3 types of results you could receive:

  • A normal result – most people (about 98 out of a 100) will receive a normal result. A normal result does not guarantee you do not have or will never develop bowel cancer in the future; so being aware of the symptoms of bowel cancer is very important.
  • An unclear result – means there was a slight suggestion of blood in the test sample. This could have been caused by conditions such as haemorrhoids (piles) or stomach ulcers. Receiving an unclear result does not mean you have cancer, just that you need to repeat the test. About 4 people out of every 100 will initially receive an unclear result. Most people who repeat the test will then receive a normal result.
  • An abnormal result – shows that blood may have been found in your test sample. It is not a diagnosis of cancer, but it does mean you will be offered a colonoscopy. The abnormal result may have been caused by bleeding from bowel polyps, rather than bowel cancer. It may also have been caused by other conditions such as haemorrhoids (piles). About 2 in every 100 people doing the test will have an abnormal result.

For people who have an abnormal test result, we offer Specialist Screening Nurse appointments at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, George Eliot Hospital or Warwick Hospital to discuss the option of having a colonoscopy procedure to examine the bowel. The Specialist Screening Nurse will fully explain the colonoscopy procedure to you and access your fitness for it. If you want to go ahead with the colonoscopy, the practitioner will book an appointment for you.

What is a Colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is an investigation that involves looking directly at the lining of the large bowel. A thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera attached (a colonoscope) is passed into the back passage and guided around the bowel. If polyps are found, most can be removed painlessly, using a wire loop passed down the colonoscope tube. These tissue samples are then checked for any abnormal cells that might be cancerous.

  • About 5 in 10 people who have a colonoscopy will have a normal result (they do not have cancer or polyps)
  • About 1 in 4 will be found to have a polyp which, if removed, may prevent cancer developing
  • About 1 in 10 people will be found to have a cancer when they have a colonoscopy

A colonoscopy is the most effective way to diagnose bowel cancer. For most people, having a colonoscopy is a straightforward procedure. However, as with most medical procedures, there is the possibility of complications. More information about colonoscopies is provided in the leaflet sent to anyone offered a colonoscopy.

What if I Need Treatment for Bowel Cancer?

In the unlikely event you are diagnosed with bowel cancer, a team of specialists will look after you. They will make sure you get the best care and treatment at all times.

If bowel cancer is detected at the earliest stage, there is over a 90% chance of survival,

The main treatment for bowel cancer is surgery. In some cases, chemotherapy or radiotherapy may be offered.

If the cancer is a polyp that has been removed during colonoscopy, regular check ups ay be all that is needed.

Not all bowel cancers detected by screening can be cured.

What Are the Symptoms of Bowel Cancer?

Bowel cancer screening aims to detect bowel cancer at an early stage; in people with no symptoms, when treatment is more likely to be effective.
The most common symptoms of bowel cancer to look out for are:

  • A persistent change in bowel habit, especially going to the toilet more often or diarrhoea for several weeks
  • Bleeding from the back passage without any obvious reasons
  • Abdominal pain, especially if it is severe
  • A lump in your abdomen

Please remember that these symptoms so not necessarily mean you have bowel cancer, but if you have one or more of the symptoms for 4 to 6 weeks, you should see your GP.
Further Information

If you have any questions, or would like more information about screening for bowel cancer you can:

  • Contact the programme hub on Freephone 0800 707 60 60
  • Talk to your GP

Meet the team

Back to Departments