Bowel screening to start at 50 in England

Since bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer diagnosed in the UK, the NHS offers bowel cancer screening.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, people aged 60 – 74 who are registered with a GP are sent a bowel cancer testing kit every two years. In Scotland, however, screening starts when you’re 50. But the national screening committee has recommended that bowel cancer screening in England should also start at the age of 50, which would bring the screening programme in line with Scotland.

The risk of bowel cancer rises steeply from around age 50 to 54 and rates are significantly higher among males than females,” says Professor Ann Mackie, director of screening at Public Health England.

“Starting screening ten years earlier at 50 will help spot more abnormalities at an early stage that could develop into bowel cancer if not detected.”

The current screening programme is also due to start using a new home test kit, called a faecal immunochemical (FIT) test kit. This is easier to use than the current test – called a faecal occult blood (FOB) test – and is more accurate in detecting potential cancers, says Public Health England.

“We are determined to make our cancer survival rates the best in the world,” says public health minister Steve Brine. “With the roll out of FIT as a new bowel screening test from the autumn – a much more convenient and reliable test – we have a real opportunity to reshape our bowel screening programme and potentially detect the stages of bowel cancer much earlier.

“We are now considering opportunities and taking expert advice on how a sustainable, optimal bowel cancer screening programme starting at age 50 can work in the future.”

Signs and symptoms

Besides the home test kits, the screening programme in England also includes an additional one-off test called bowel scope screening that’s offered to people at the age of 55. But while most people diagnosed with bowel cancer are over the age of 60, it can affect younger people too. According to the NHS here are the three main symptoms to look out for:

  • Persistent change in your bowel habit (this usually means going more often, with looser stools).
  • Persistent blood in your stools that happens for no obvious reason or is associated with a change in bowel habit.
  • Persistent lower abdominal pain, bloating or discomfort that’s always caused by eating and may be accompanied by loss of appetite or significant unintentional weight loss.

Most people with these symptoms don’t have bowel cancer. However you should see your GP if you’re affected by any of them.

Your local Careway pharmacist can also give you confidential advice in private if you’re worried about these or any other symptoms.

Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.