This Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, HSE BowelScreen encourages people to take up the offer of screening

Nearly half of people surveyed say fear prevents them taking up bowel cancer screening invitation

For Bowel Cancer Awareness Month this April, HSE BowelScreen encourages people (aged 60-69) to take up the offer of screening 

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Today, (1 April 2022), the HSE National Screening Service shares research findings, marking the beginning of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. Recent research from BowelScreen – Ireland’s national bowel cancer screening programme – has found that fear of finding something wrong is the most common reason for not taking part in the free test.* Yet the majority of changes in the bowel found by screening are actually discovered when they’re easier to treat, and there’s a better chance of recovery.

The research findings also reveal that 91% of people who are eligible are aware that bowel screening is a good way to identify those who are at risk of developing cancer.

Yet a fifth (19%) said they feared the screening process. ‘Embarrassment’ and ‘not knowing they were eligible’ were other significant reasons for not taking part.

Around 2,800 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in Ireland each year, of these, approximately 300 (approximately 11%) are diagnosed in people screened by BowelScreen. It’s the second most common invasive cancer in men. For women it is the third most common invasive cancer, with a higher incidence than cervical and lung cancer.**

About 1,000 men and women die of bowel cancer each year in Ireland. The number of new cases is expected to increase significantly over the next 10 years, due mainly to an increasing and ageing population.***

Yet screening offers the chance for early detection – before cancer develops or when there are no symptoms – which means treatment is often more effective than if diagnosed later. Every year over 3,000 people have pre-cancerous growths (known as polyps) removed as a result of bowel screening. This can prevent cancer from actually developing in the first instance.

How does bowel screening work?

BowelScreen invites men and women aged between 60 and 69 to use a simple, free, home test kit (FIT test) that looks for blood in the stool (poo), not visible to the human eye. If the home test is positive for a level of blood then you are invited for a colonoscopy in one of our 15 screening colonoscopy units based in hospitals throughout Ireland.

For the majority (approximately 95%) of people, the FIT will be the only test required. Only a small minority (approximately 5%), will be referred for a colonoscopy. This means that for the vast majority of people, completing the home FIT kit will be their only bowel screen experience.

International evidence clearly shows that screening in the eligible age groups is effective at reducing the number of deaths, the number of new cases, and the number of families affected by bowel cancer.

The latest published figures from BowelScreen show that the programme had an uptake rate of 41.9%. BowelScreen can be most effective in reducing mortality from bowel cancer in the population, if at least 50 per cent of eligible clients attend for screening.****

Clinical Director of BowelScreen (Interim), Professor Pádraic Mac Mathuna, said: “This Bowel Cancer Awareness Month we’re making people aware of the easy and potentially life-changing action they can take to reduce their risk of bowel cancer. The more people who take up the invitation, the more effective a tool bowel screening becomes to help prevent bowel cancer.

Most of the time bowel screening is not looking for cancer. Bowel screening looks to detect and remove polyps. Polyps are small growths that are not cancer but, if not removed, might turn into cancer over time - approximately ten years. If polyps are found, they can be removed easily.

“We’re encouraging men and women aged between 60 and 69 to take up the offer of screening. It’s free, simple and it could help save their life.”

BowelScreen offers home bowel screening tests to approximately 250,000 people each year in Ireland. If you are on our register, you will be invited to take your first home screening test between your 60th and 62nd birthday. (Due to COVID-19 some people's invitations for screening have been delayed by approximately one year. You may be 63 when you get your first invitation).

Everyone aged 60-69 years is urged to check they are on the bowel screening register by visiting www.bowelscreen.ieor by calling the Freephone number 1800 45 45 55. Once registered you will be sent an invitation to take part in screening, it will be followed by a FIT test delivered to your home in the post.

Last updated on: 01 / 04 / 2022