Bowel cancer

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What to look out for

The early signs of bowel cancer are often hidden so it's important to look out for these signs or changes in your bowel movements. If you experience any of the symptoms below make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible.

  • Repeated bleeding from your bottom or blood in your poo.
  • A recent change in your poo that continues for more than four weeks without going back to normal.
  • Watery poo on its own or with constipation (constipation on its own is less likely to be serious).
  • Severe pain in your stomach that won't go away, especially after eating.
  • You've recently lost weight without trying
  • You feel tired all the time and people keep telling you that you, 'look a bit pale.'

Bowel cancer home screening test

As well as looking out for the signs and symptoms above, it’s important to keep an eye out for your home bowel cancer screening test coming through your letterbox.

Everyone between the ages of 50 and 74 will receive a bowel screening kit through the post every two years. If you're 75 or over you can still take a test every two years if you want to. However, you won't automatically be sent a kit, you'll need to request one via the Helpline number below.

The test is the most effective way to detect bowel cancer in its earliest stages – when it’s more treatable and can often be cured. It can spot hidden blood in your poo – which you or your GP wouldn’t know was there - which can often be a sign of bowel cancer.

To take the test all you have to do is put one sample of poo onto a special stick and then close the test. It’s quick and simple and could save your life.

If you have made a mistake or misplaced your screening test don’t worry, you can request a replacement simply by calling the Scottish Bowel Screening Helpline on 0800 0121 833.

How to do the test

A specialists view

Bowel cancer, if caught early, is a curable disease and the best way of detecting it early is to use the bowel screening test sent out to all 50-74 year olds in Scotland every two years.

Patients diagnosed through the bowel screening programme tend to have less advanced forms of cancer – fewer have spread beyond the bowel and tumours are usually significantly smaller, and more likely to be simple to treat.

The bowel screening test can be done in the privacy of your own home and the results are sent back to you directly. It’s simple and could save your life. It’s essential for people to stay alert to any potential signs of bowel cancer in between screenings – if you notice any blood in your poo, or a change in your bowel movements, contact your GP as soon as possible.

James Mander, Consultant Colorectal Surgeon at Western General Hospital, Edinburgh

Getting checked – what's involved?

Some people put off going to the doctor because they think they'll be wasting their GP's time. Your doctor won't think that – they want to see you if you’re worried about any potential symptoms.

If you think you might have a potential bowel cancer symptom, here’s what you can expect when you visit your doctor:

  • Your GP will listen carefully to your story about what you have noticed with your health and will ask some questions about your symptoms. You may be asked if you have a family history of bowel cancer.
  • Your GP will then carry out a physical examination of your abdomen and may also examine your lower rectum (your back passage).
  • Your GP may also do some blood tests.
  • If your symptoms suggest that you may have bowel cancer, or the diagnosis is uncertain, you will be referred to your local hospital for further tests. These may include examining the bowel with a camera (colonoscopy).

For more help and advice you can call the NHS Inform Helpline on 0800 22 44 88.


  1. Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in Scotland.
  2. Nine out of ten people survive if it’s caught early.
  3. The early signs of bowel cancer are often hidden but it is highly treatable if found early.
  4. The bowel cancer home screening test prevents 150 deaths each year in Scotland.

Why earlier?

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in Scotland. The older you get, the higher your risk of developing it. And what lots of people don’t know is that the early signs are often hidden. Even your doctor can’t see it in its early stages. But when it is found early, bowel cancer’s much easier to treat. In fact, 9 out of 10 people beat it. The best way to find it early is to do the bowel cancer home screening test.

Bowel Screening

All men and women between the ages of 50 and 74 receive a bowel screening kit in the post every two years. It’s a simple way for you to put a small sample of your bowel motion (poo) on a special stick, which is then posted safe, secure and free of charge to the Scottish Bowel Screening Centre laboratory for testing.

Although the test may seem like an embarrassing thing to do, it can be done in the privacy of your own home, it’s quick and simple and, most importantly, could save your life. In fact, 9 out of 10 people survive bowel cancer if it's detected early and treated.

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