Get screened for bowel cancer

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%) were in men and 1,790 (45%) 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).

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.

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:

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