Together we will beat cancer

Patient and Doctor

A new addition to the bowel screening programme is being rolled out

Back in December we wrote about Jeremy Hunt’s announcement that six centres in England would start using Bowel Scope Screening (BSS, also known as flexi-scope or flexible sigmoidoscopy) as part of their bowel screening programme in 2013.

This week, 55 year olds in the South of Tyne region (which includes Gateshead, Sunderland and South Tyneside) received the first wave of letters inviting them to be screened.

This is great news. Cancer Research UK has been involved in Bowel Scope Screening from the beginning – we co-funded a 16 year study  which showed that it cuts deaths by over 40 per cent, and – unlike the current test – can actually prevent a third of bowel cancers among those screened.

As a result, it has the potential to save thousands of lives from bowel cancer each year.

As soon as the trial results were published in 2010, we said we wanted the Government to add BSS to the existing bowel screening programme, and later that year, they agreed, setting aside £60m to fund it.

Since then we’ve been calling for Bowel Scope Screening to start as soon as possible, so it’s fantastic to see it finally happen.

What does the test do?

The test used in Bowel Scope Screening, flexible sigmoidoscopy , uses a flexible tube with a camera and a light on the end to look into your lower bowel. It can spot both early-stage cancers and pre-cancerous growths known as ‘polyps,’ which can be immediately removed to prevent them developing into cancer.

There’s information about having sigmoidoscopy on our website, or you can watch this video.

Recent studies have shown that people find it ‘acceptable’ and ‘reassuring’.

It’s not a new test – it’s been used to diagnose bowel cancer in patients with symptoms for many years. But what is new is using it in this way to screen the population before they even have symptoms. And this could have a huge impact on bowel cancer in this country.

When will it be available?

This is the first of six ‘pilot’ centres which will iron out any potential problems in the system before rolling out BSS to the rest of the country. Over the next few months, another five centres will then start to offer Bowel Scope Screening.

By 2016, everyone in England should be invited to have a test at the age of 55.

What does it mean for me?

Bowel Scope Screening adds to the  existing bowel screening programme, which uses the Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) – which looks for blood in your stools. People are invited from age 60 to participate (or age 50 in Scotland).

Under the new plans, if you live in England, you’ll be invited to be screened using BSS when you turn 55. If you decide not to go (and it is your decision), you can change your mind up until you turn 60. At that point you’ll be invited to take part in the existing bowel screening programme.

Whether or not you decide to have BSS, you will still be invited to take part in the existing screening programme at 60, to help spot any cancer that might develop later on. Although it hasn’t been shown to prevent cancer in the same way as BSS, FOBT is still an important way of helping to diagnose bowel cancer at an early stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful. The evidence so far suggests it’s made a big impact already and BSS takes this a step further.

What’s next?

This is an important first step. Now we need to make sure that everyone can benefit from Bowel Scope Screening. At the moment BSS is only being rolled out in England. We want to see Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland develop their own plans for BSS, including making sure they have the right facilities available.

If this test is made available across the UK, thousands of deaths will be prevented, and – even better – potentially thousands of people will be spared from ever having to experience this terrible disease.


  • Dan Hughes-Morgan is a policy adviser at Cancer Research UK


Carol April 15, 2013

Just wondered why they are not including the NW in the pilot group?

I am a 50yr old female and have lost a grandad, three of his daughters and one of their daughters to colon cancer between ages 51 & 70, does this put me into a higher risk category?

Dawn Witney April 12, 2013

This is wonderful news and needs to be rolled out across the UK asap. My husband died in 2002 from bowel cancer. He had been given a colonoscopy in 1998 and this had detected what were described as tags. No treatment had been offered. He underwent major abdominal surgery in May 2000 after finding blood in his stools, but his tumour had already spread and his condition was diagnosed as terminal. The truly awful thing is that even if they had found a polyp in 1998 they would not have removed it. He was 53 when he died.

Fiona April 11, 2013

This is excellent news, but do hope this will be offered throughout the UK. I’m approaching 50 and bowel cancer worries me. I lost my dear Mum to this cancer in 1994 – three weeks after diagnosis. She was only 61. If the bowel screening test that is now offered in Scotland to over 50s had been available then perhaps it would have been detected a lot earlier.

Such good news when progress is made to offer screening.

J Turner April 9, 2013

I think it’s great. Any screening is a good thing, however, I was 39 when I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. It was only found because I had a scope. The specialist said that other tests (ie barium enema) would not have found it. Luckily for me my cancer was found early and surgery was all that was needed. Having said that, I wouldn’t ever want to go through bowel surgery again – it’s not nice. The scope is nothing by comparison. I’ve had about 6 now and believe me they are far preferable to the possible alternative!!

hayleyorganics April 8, 2013

If you feel that your concerns are not being taken seriously then its important to be persistent, whatever your age, make a diary of your symptoms and what you have eaten for a couple of weeks as proof of what you are suffering to prove how serious you are.

If after a couple of visits you get nowhere then as Dan says, see a different G.P or book in with a practice nurse who can further raise your concerns for you.

If you still have no joy then I would contact your practice manager, G.P’s unfortunately don’t have unlimited funds but if you are really concerned and have genuine reason to be then keep trying.

Health is our own responsibility and therefore we must follow up our visits until a test is provided if it is justified, also ask for dietary advice and follow it, as a change in diet may help symptoms and if it doesn’t this will strengthen your case.

John Cupis April 7, 2013

I am a very fit 75. Recently I underwent the full medical to maintain a PCV driving licence. Recently I walked in the Brecon Beacons. I have no symptoms but would like to have screening for bowel cancer. Can this be done?