Currently bowel cancer screening is offered by the NHS for anyone over the age of 60. However, if this age was reduced to 50, each year an additional 4,000 people would have the opportunity to be diagnosed earlier, therefore increasing their chance of survival. Screening is a more robust method of diagnosis than via referral from a GP, so if you are over 60 make sure you are completing your application for screening. If you are over 50 but under 60, consider your other options to minimise your risk.

Bowel cancer screening detects cancer early

The purpose of screening is to detect cancer in the early stages where treatment is almost always more successful.

According to Cancer Research UK, with bowel cancer there is a 98% chance of surviving one year after diagnosis, when the cancer is detected at Stage 1. This drops to under 40% in some cases, when it is detected at Stage 4.

Source: Cancer Research UK


The 5-year survival rate for bowel cancer detected at Stage 1 is close to 100%, compared to under 10% when diagnosed at Stage 4.

Bowel cancer screening – what is involved?

Currently, the NHS send out bowel cancer screening packs to everyone over the age of 60. This requires you to give a stool sample that will be assessed in a lab for traces of blood, which is one of the early signs of bowel cancer.

If your test comes back with any abnormalities then you may be referred to a doctor for a more sophisticated test, such as a colonoscopy.

The colonoscopy uses an endoscope, a thin, flexible tube with a camera and bright light to explore your colon, searching for other signs of cancer, namely in the form of bowel polyps, which are small bony growths found inside the many twists and turns of the colon.

Many bowel polyps are  harmless and do not pose a cancer risk. However, if bowel polyps are detected during the colonoscopy test, then the doctor can snip these away from the lining of the bowel, as a precaution to ensure they don’t turn cancerous in the future.

Bowel cancer screening age: Over 60?

If you are over 60, ensure to complete your screening test.

Currently, according to charity Bowel Cancer UK, under 60% of people in England that are sent the free test in the post actually complete it.

  • 59% in Northern Ireland
  • 57% in Scotland
  • 56% in England
  • 54% in Wales

The test may not be the most pleasant but predictions show that this current screening programme will save over 2,000 lives each year by 2025.

Encourage your family and friends to do the same and not make it a taboo topic.

Bowel cancer screening age: Over 50 but under 60?

Charities such as Beating Bowel Cancer are continually campaigning for the NHS to decrease the screening age to 50.

It is estimated that in the next decade 40,000 people in the age bracket of “over 50 but under 60”, will be diagnosed with bowel cancer. Therefore, lowering the screening age could mean 4,000 patients per year would have the opportunity to be diagnosed at an earlier stage, greatly increasing their chances of survival.

Scotland already offer bowel cancer screening from age 50.

At present though there is no cancer screening option available on the NHS.

If you are over 50 and particularly if you are higher risk, consider a bowel cancer screening test from a private gastroenterologist. 

If you have any of the following, this puts you in a higher risk group for bowel cancer.

  • Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP)
  • Lynch syndrome
  • A strong family history of bowel cancer
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • History of bowel polyps

Working with a specialist that can accurately diagnose any signs of bowel cancer you will give you peace of mind and enable you to promptly move forward with any necessary treatment.