Frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions

Why screen for bowel cancer?

About one in 20 people in the UK will develop bowel cancer during their lifetime. It is the third most common cancer in the UK, and the second leading cause of cancer deaths, with over 16,000 people dying from it each year.1

Regular bowel cancer screening has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from bowel cancer by 16 per cent2.

1CancerResearch UK, 2005. Cancerstats
2Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2006. Screening for colorectal cancer using the faecal occult blood test: an update.

What is the purpose of bowel cancer screening?

Bowel cancer screening aims to detect bowel cancer at an early stage (in people with no symptoms), when treatment is more likely to be effective.

Bowel cancer screening can also detect polyps. These are not cancers, but may develop into cancers over time. They can easily be removed, reducing the risk of bowel cancer developing.

How is the NHS bowel screening programme organised in Somerset?

The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme has now been fully rolled out for patients registered with a Somerset GP.

A programme hub based in Guildford, Surrey operates a national call and recall system and sends out faecal occult blood (FOB) testing kits, analyses samples and despatches results to participants. The hub works closely with the screening centre for Somerset which is based at Musgrove Park Hospital, Taunton.

Locally the Somerset Bowel Cancer Screening Centre provides information to the public, Endoscopy services and Specialist Screening Nurse clinics for people receiving an abnormal result at both Musgrove Park and Yeovil District Hospitals.

Who is eligible for bowel cancer screening?

The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme offers screening every two years to all men and women aged 60 to 74. The testing kits are automatically sent to you at home if you are aged between 60 and 74 years of age. The kits are usually generated just after your birthday but if you would like an actual date prediction please contact the Somerset Bowel Cancer Screening Centre, Endoscopy, Musgrove Park Hospital, Taunton TA1 5DA.

Telephone Somerset Bowel Cancer Screening Centre 01823 343345

People aged over 74 can request a screening kit by calling a freephone helpline number 0800 707 60 60.

How will the screening process work?

Men and women eligible for screening will receive an invitation letter explaining the programme and an information leaflet entitled Bowel Cancer Screening - The Facts.  About a week later, an FOB test kit will be sent out along with step-by-step instructions for completing the test at home and sending the samples to the hub laboratory in Guildford. The test will then be processed and the results sent within two weeks.

What happens next?

Around 98 in 100 people will receive a normal result and will be returned to routine screening. They will be invited for bowel cancer screening every two years if still within the eligible age range (this will increase up to age 74 years from April 2010).

Around 2 in 100 people will receive an abnormal result. They will be referred for further investigation to Somerset Bowel Cancer Screening Centre at either Musgrove Park or Yeovil Hospitals and usually offered a colonoscopy procedure.

Around 4 in 100 people may initially receive an unclear result which means that there was a slight suggestion of blood in the test sample. This could be caused by conditions other than cancer such as haemorrhoids (piles). An unclear result does not mean that cancer is present, but that the FOB test will need to be repeated. Most people who repeat the test will then go on to receive a normal result.

How does the FOB test work? 

Polyps and bowel cancers sometimes bleed, and the faecal occult blood (FOB) test works by detecting tiny amounts of blood which cannot normally be seen in bowel motions. 'Occult' means hidden. The FOB test does not diagnose bowel cancer, but the results will indicate whether further investigation (usually a colonoscopy) is needed.

People who receive an abnormal result will be offered an appointment with a specialist nurse. The nurse will explain what a colonoscopy involves, assess the patient's fitness for the procedure, and answer any questions.

What is a colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is an investigation that involves looking directly at the lining of the large bowel. A sedative is given and then a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera attached (a colonoscope) is passed into the back passage and guided around the bowel. If polyps are found, most can be removed painlessly, using a wire loop passed down the colonoscope tube. These tissue samples are then checked for any abnormal cells that might be cancerous.

  • About five in 10 people who have a colonoscopy will have a normal result.
  •  About four in 10 will be found to have a polyp, which if removed may prevent cancer developing.
  •  About one in 10 people will be found to have cancer when they have a colonoscopy.

What are the risks of colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is the most effective way to diagnose bowel cancer and for most people it is a straightforward procedure. However, as with most medical procedures, there is the possibility of complications. These can include heavy bleeding (about a one in 150 chance) which will need further investigation or medical advice. There is approximately a one in 1,500 chance that the colonoscope could cause a hole (perforation) in the wall of the bowel. In extremely rare cases, colonoscopy may result in death. Current evidence suggests that this may only happen in around one in 10,000 cases.