Frequently asked questions
On this page, you can watch our video that explains how bowel cancer screening works and browse the frequently asked questions below.
Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers. Screening – which you do in private at home – can help prevent bowel cancer or find it at an early stage when it’s easier to treat.
NHS bowel cancer screening is available to everyone aged 56 to 74. You can hear stories from some Londoners who have done their bowel cancer screening test by watching our video above.
The free NHS bowel cancer screening kit allows you to collect a small sample of poo which you post back to the NHS from a regular postbox (no stamp is needed).
The samples are checked in a lab for tiny amounts of blood. Blood can be a sign of polyps or bowel cancer. Polyps are growths in the bowel which are not cancer, but may turn into cancer over time. Finding polyps early allows them to be removed before any issues arise.
NHS bowel cancer screening kits are for people with no symptoms and most people get the all-clear. If you are sent an NHS bowel cancer screening kit, please use it. It could stop cancer before it starts.
Everyone aged 60 to 74 who is registered with a GP and lives in England is automatically sent a free NHS bowel cancer screening kit every two years. Londoners who were 56 after 31 March 2021 or 58 after 15 May 2022 are now also included. By April 2025, it will be for everyone aged 50 to 74 in England.
The free NHS bowel cancer screening kit used in England is the faecal immunochemical test kit – FIT kit for short.
You collect a small sample of your poo on a small plastic stick, put it in the sample bottle and post it to a lab for testing. Packaging is supplied. No stamp is needed.
Instructions on using the kit come with it. Click here to see a video with the instructions which has translated subtitles and is also in British Sign Language.
If you have forgotten to use your bowel cancer screening kit, please check the expiry date on the side of the tube.
Once you have used your kit, please return it to the NHS as soon as possible as the lab will need to test the kit within 14 days.
The poo samples are checked in a lab for tiny amounts of blood. Blood can be a sign of polyps or bowel cancer. Polyps are growths in the bowel. They are not cancer but may turn into cancer over time.
Your test result should be posted to you within two weeks of you sending off your kit.
There are two types of result:
- no further tests needed
- further tests needed.
This result means:
- no blood was found in your poo sample, or only a tiny amount
- you do not need to do anything at this time
- you’ll be invited to do another screening test in two years (if you’re still under 75 by then)
This is not a guarantee that you do not have bowel cancer. See a GP if you have or get symptoms of bowel cancer, even if you have already used a bowel screening kit.
This result means:
- blood was found in your poo sample
- you do not necessarily have bowel cancer (the blood could be the result of something like piles) but you’ll be offered an appointment to talk about having a colonoscopy to look for the cause.
The vast majority of further tests come back negative for bowel cancer.
About 98 out of 100 people who use their bowel screening kit do not need further tests. About two out of 100 are asked to go to hospital for further tests. Nine out of 100 people who have these further tests (nine out of 5000 people who use their bowel screening kit) turn out to have cancer.
In the UK, 43,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer and over 16,500 people die from it each year – more than 45 a day
Screening can help prevent bowel cancer or find it at an early stage when it’s easier to treat and those who complete bowel screening are 25% less likely to die of bowel cancer.
No screening test is 100% reliable, so yes, there is a chance a cancer could be missed. Even if you have used your NHS bowel screening kit recently, stay alert for bowel cancer symptoms.
NHS bowel screening kits are sent to the home address of everyone the right age who is registered with a GP in London, soon after their 60th birthday and then every two years until they are 74. Londoners who were 56 after 31 March 2021 or 58 after 15 May 2022 are now also included. If you are the right age but didn’t receive one, please phone the free bowel screening helpline on 0800 707 6060. Please also make sure your GP practice has your correct address.
If you are 75 or over, you can ask for a free NHS bowel screening kit every two years by phoning the free bowel screening helpline on 0800 707 6060.
By April 2025, free NHS bowel cancer screening kits will be sent every two years to everyone aged 50 to 74 who is registered with a GP and lives in England. Although people of any age can get bowel cancer, more than 9 out of 10 cases are in people aged 50 and over.
It is important for everyone, whatever their age, to be aware of bowel cancer symptoms and to contact a GP if they have these symptoms for 3 weeks or more.
Phone the free bowel screening helpline on 0800 707 6060.
For further questions and answers, please click here.