Bowel screening aims to detect signs of bowel cancer at an early stage, where there are no symptoms.
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.
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.
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.
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.
But 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.
If you were due to be screened in 2020, we aimed to invite you in 2021. If you were due to be screened in 2021, we aim to invite you in 2022.
We are prioritising invitations for people who have been waiting for screening the longest and 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 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
Irish and English guides to bowel screening
We have guides to BowelScreen in Irish and English: