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Bowel screening information

Bowel screening aims to detect signs of bowel cancer at an early stage, where there are no symptoms.

Over 2,700 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in Ireland every year. Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in men and the fifth most common cancer in women in Ireland. 

If bowel cancer is found early, it’s easier to treat and there’s a better chance of recovery.

Doing the test at home

Screening involves taking a sample of your stool (poo) at home using a home test. We can post the test to you.

The test provides a simple way for you to collect a small sample of your stool 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 stool. If the amount of blood found in your stool sample 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 that you may be at risk of bowel cancer.

This test is free. You can register online or Freephone 1800 45 45 55.

Related topic

Home screening test

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 isn't a guarantee that you don't 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.

Always see a 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 appointment. 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 that are not cancer but, if not removed, might turn into cancer over time.

When can I 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.

If you're outside the current age range of BowelScreen but are worried about bowel cancer, speak to your GP for advice.

Related topic

Register for bowel screening

Always see a GP if you have any symptoms or are concerned about a family history of bowel cancer.

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 occur at any age. A healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk of bowel cancer. Try to:

  • be more physically active
  • eat a diet with plenty of dietary fibre such as fruit, vegetables and wholegrain bread, brown rice and cereals
  • reduce intake of processed and red meat
  • keep a healthy weight
  • limit the amount of alcohol you take

Related topic

How to improve your fitness

Irish and English guides to bowel screening

We have guides to BowelScreen in Irish and English:

Page last reviewed: 29/05/2019
Next review due: 29/05/2022