Bowel cancer screening: programme overview

Bowel cancer screening: programme overview

Public information about bowel cancer screening is available on the NHS website. Members of the public can call the free bowel cancer screening helpline on 0800 707 60 60.

Public Health England (PHE) is committed to reducing inequalities and variation in participation to help make sure everyone has fair and equal access to screening services.

PHE has also published information about patient confidentiality in population screening programmes.

Target population

Bowel cancer screening is offered every 2 years to men and women aged 60 to 74. People older than this can ask for a screening kit every 2 years by calling the free helpline on 0800 707 60 60.

Previously, some people aged 55 were invited for bowel scope screening. This is a test where a healthcare professional uses a tube with a camera to look inside the bowel. Bowel scope screening is no longer offered as part of the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme.

In August 2018, ministers agreed that in the future bowel cancer screening in England will start at the age of 50. The NHS is starting to reduce the age range for bowel cancer screening from April 2021.

Condition screened for

Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel. Depending on where it starts, bowel cancer is sometimes called colon or rectal cancer. The NHS website has more information, including:

  • symptoms of bowel cancer
  • causes of bowel cancer
  • treatment for bowel cancer

The screening test

Faecal immunochemical test

A new test kit called the faecal immunochemical test (FIT) was introduced in England in June 2019. This kit is now sent with all invitations for bowel cancer screening.

People eligible for bowel cancer screening get an invitation letter, along with an information leaflet explaining screening and its possible benefits and risks.

About a week later, the programme sends a FIT kit with instructions on how to use it at home. Results are sent out 2 weeks after the laboratory receives the completed kit.

The screening programme offers individuals with an abnormal screening result a colonoscopy.

The quality assurance guidelines for colonoscopy provide guidance on standards and performance indicators in colonoscopy.

Evidence base

Bowel cancer screening is one of 11 NHS national population screening programmes available in England.

The UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) makes recommendations to ministers in the 4 UK countries on all aspects of population screening. It ensures that screening provides more benefit than harm, at a reasonable cost to the NHS.

Recommendations are based on internationally recognised criteria and a rigorous evidence review process.

Read the UK NSC recommendation on bowel cancer screening.

Data and intelligence

PHE collects routine data and key performance indicators (KPI) data reports to monitor the uptake of bowel cancer screening.

Requests for screening data and research

All requests for screening data need to be approved by the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme Research Advisory Committee.

PHE also has terms of reference for NHS population screening programme research advisory committees.

Commissioning

All bowel cancer screening commissioners must follow the service specification and use the supporting documents to ensure a fit for purpose programme is set up, and meets the required standards.

Quality assurance

The role of the screening quality assurance service is to:

The programme specific operating model for quality assurance of the bowel cancer screening programme should be read in conjunction with the operating model for PHE screening quality assurance service: 2015/16 to 2017/18 and the relevant programme standards.

Workforce – education and training

Education and training resources are available for healthcare professionals working in bowel cancer screening.

There are also more general resources to support screening professionals in their initial training and continuing professional development (CPD).

It is an individual’s choice whether or not to have screening. People can opt out if they do not want to receive screening invitations.


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