Bowel screening involves testing for bowel cancer in people who do not have any obvious symptoms of the disease. The aim is to find cancers early when they are easier to treat and cure. Screening can also find polyps, which may develop into cancer over time.
Bowel cancer often develops without any early warning signs. The cancer can grow on the inside wall of the bowel for several years before spreading to other parts of the body. Often very small amounts of blood leak from these growths and pass into the bowel motion (faeces) before any symptoms are noticed. A screening test called a Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) is used to collect samples of bowel motions, which are then analysed to detect tiny traces of blood, invisible to the naked eye. The screening test cannot diagnose bowel cancer, but the results will indicate whether a further test (usually a colonoscopy) is needed to rule out bowel cancer.
Bowel cancer can be treated successfully if detected in its early stages; however, fewer than 40 per cent of bowel cancers are currently detected early. Research has shown screening for bowel cancer, using an FOBT, can reduce deaths from the disease by 15-25 per cent. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about bowel cancer and screening.