Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that starts in the large bowel. Depending on where the cancer starts, sometimes bowel cancer is referred to as colon or rectal cancer.
Each year in Wales, over 2,200 people receive the devastating news that they have bowel cancer. The majority of people diagnosed are over the age of 60, which is why, in Wales, every two years, those between the age of 60-74 are invited to conduct their own bowel screening test.
The importance of bowel screening
Bowel screening aims to detect bowel cancer at its preliminary stages and even in those with no visible symptoms. Not only does it check for bowel cancer, but it can also detect polyps, non-cancerous cells that can sometimes later develop into cancer.
Like many cancers, the earlier it is detected, the higher the chance of recovery. In fact, over 9 in 10 people will survive bowel cancer when it is detected early, which is why the screening process is so important.
Who’s eligible for bowel screening?
If you are aged between 60-74, you will be sent a bowel screening kit every two years, so it is important to make sure your GP has your correct address to ensure your kit is posted to the right place.
If you’re 75 or over, you can ask for a kit every two years by requesting a bowel screening kit here.
If you’re worried about a family history of bowel cancer or have any symptoms, speak to a GP for further advice.
Don’t be scared, do the test
Doing the home test is simple, discreet and doesn’t take long, but could literally save your life.
You will use the home test kit to collect a small sample of poo and send it to a lab that checks it for small amounts of blood, which can be a sign of bowel cancer or polyps.
If you do have a small amount of blood in your poo, it doesn’t mean you definitely have bowel cancer. There may be many other reasons why you have blood in your poo, including haemorrhoids (piles) or small tears in the bowel.
After you’ve sent your kit to the lab, the results will tell you if you need further tests.
Your bowel screening results
The results of the bowel screening test will take around two weeks. The majority of those who have their results do not need any further tests. However, if blood is found in your sample you will be invited for further assessment with a screening nurse.
We will also offer you further tests which may include a colonoscopy.
Symptoms of bowel cancer
Even if you have a test every two years, it’s still important to look out for the symptoms of bowel cancer, these include:
- Persistent blood in your poo
- A persistent change in your bowel habits
- Continued lower abdominal pain, bloating and/or discomfort that is caused by eating
- Loss of appetite or significant unintended weight loss
Having these symptoms doesn’t mean you necessarily have bowel cancer, and they can be caused by other more minor issues. However, these symptoms should be taken more seriously as you get older and if they persist.
If you are concerned about bowel cancer or showing any of the symptoms, it’s important that you speak to your GP as soon as possible.
To summarise, below are just some of the key reasons why it’s important to undertake bowel screening:
- It will help to detect bowel cancer, even when there aren’t any visible symptoms.
- More than 9 out of 10 people survive bowel cancer if it is caught early enough.
- You can do the test in the comfort and privacy of your own home.
- It is quick and easy to use, with just one small poo sample needed.
It really is that quick and easy and could quite literally save your life.
You can find the answers to frequently asked questions around bowel screening here.