Bowel cancer is a major public health problem in Scotland. The Scottish Bowel Screening Programme invites men and women aged between 50 and 74 to take part in screening every two years. Bowel screening aims to find cancer at an early stage when treatment is likely to be more effective. Bowel screening is the only screening programme where the test is completed at home.

From November 2017 the faecal immunochemical test (FIT) will replace the guaiac faecal occult blood test (gFOBt) as the test used in the in the Scottish Bowel Screening Programme.

This pack has been developed to help health professionals understand and support the Scottish Bowel Screening Programme. To request a copy of the pack by post, email nhs.HealthScotland-Publications@nhs.net.

  • Scotland has a higher rate of bowel cancer than most other countries in the Western world.
  • Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in Scotland. Around 4,000 people in Scotland get bowel cancer every year.
  • From age 50 onwards the risk of bowel cancer is higher.
  • Men are more likely to have a positive screening test result.
  • Early diagnosis is key: 9 out of 10 people survive bowel cancer if it’s found early.
  • You are 14 times more likely to survive bowel cancer if it is found early.

Information Services Division's Cancer page (external) has more information on bowel cancer incidence, mortality and screening trends over time.

Screening and health inequalities

  • Bowel screening uptake is lowest in men and in the most deprived areas.
  • Screening uptake is lowest in 50-54 year olds.

The simpler bowel screening test is likely to overcome a process barrier for those who found the gFOBT test difficult or unhygienic to complete.

The 2016 Scottish Cancer Strategy (external) 'Beating Cancer: Ambition and Action' sets out a clear commitment to reduce inequalities in cancer screening.

Local and national action

The Scottish Government launched the Detect Cancer Early programme (external) in 2012. This is a programme of work to improve survival for people with cancer by diagnosing and treating the disease at an early stage. The 'Get Checked Early' Scottish Government website has the programme’s information for the public, including bowel cancer and screening (external).

NHS Boards ensure that the screening service meets the NHS Healthcare Improvement Scotland standards.

NHS Health Scotland works closely with Cancer Research UK and Bowel Cancer UK. Cancer Research UK have produced a Scottish Bowel Screening GP Good Practice guide (external) to support primary care professionals using the test. 

To support those with learning difficulties and their carers, Bowel Cancer UK have produced a learning disabilities and carers resource.

We have produced information about the bowel screening test and instructions on how to complete it. Information is available in English, alternative languages and easy-read format.

NHS Inform has all the bowel screening information for the public. This includes information in audio format, British Sign Language format and video format (external).