Bowel screening aims to detect signs of bowel cancer at an early stage, where there are no symptoms. Bowel cancer is also known as colon, rectal or colorectal cancer.
Bowel cancer screening is available to all people age 60 to 69 living in Ireland. You need to be on the bowel screening register before you’re sent an invitation to take a screening test.
Around 2,800 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in Ireland every year. Bowel cancer is the second most common of all cancers in men and the third most common of all cancers in women in Ireland.
If bowel cancer is found early, it’s easier to treat and there’s a better chance of recovery.
If you are not between 60 and 69 years of age, you are not eligible for BowelScreen. Contact your GP if you're worried about any symptoms you may have.
Doing the test at home
Screening involves taking a sample of your poo (stool sample) using a home test. We can post the test to you.
The test is a simple way for you to collect a small sample of your poo at home. This may sound embarrassing or unpleasant, but it only takes a few minutes.
You place the sample in a special tube and send it back in a sealed envelope for testing in a laboratory.
This test looks for blood in your poo. If the amount of blood found in your poo is above the screening limit, you will be referred for a further test called a colonoscopy.
Blood can be present for many non-serious reasons. But it could also be an early warning sign of bowel cancer.
Limitations of bowel screening
The bowel screening test looks only for blood in your stool. If the amount of blood is below the screening limit, it is not a guarantee that you do not have bowel cancer.
This is because not all cancers or polyps bleed all the time. No screening test is 100% reliable.
Changes can also happen between screening tests. This is why it is so important to have the screening test every 2 years.
Non-urgent advice: Speak to your GP if:
- you have any concerns or symptoms at any time
Do not wait for your next screening test if you have any symptoms of bowel cancer.
After your screening
If you get an abnormal result from your sample, you’ll be offered a colonoscopy. This is a test where a thin, flexible tube with a small camera at the end is used to look for polyps inside your bowel.
Polyps are small growths. If they are not removed they might turn into cancer over time.
When you can get a bowel screening test
The risk of bowel cancer increases as you get older. This is why people between the ages of 60 and 69 are invited to take a bowel screening test every 2 years.
If you are on our register, you will be invited to take your first home screening test between your 60th and 62nd birthday.
Due to COVID-19 some people's invitations for screening have been delayed by up to a year. You may be 63 when you get your first invitation.
We are giving priority to invitations for:
- people who have been waiting for screening the longest
- new entrants to the screening programme
If you're outside the current age range of BowelScreen but are worried about bowel cancer, speak to your GP for advice.
If you are having treatment for a bowel condition, ask your GP if it is appropriate for you to take part in the BowelScreen programme.
Reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer
It’s important to stay aware of your bowel health as changes can happen at any age. A healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk of bowel cancer.
- be more physically active
- eat a diet with plenty of dietary fibre such as fruit, vegetables and wholegrain bread, brown rice and cereals
- reduce your intake of processed and red meat
- keep a healthy weight
- limit the amount of alcohol you drink
Irish and English guides to bowel screening
You can download guides to BowelScreen in Irish and English: