Bowel cancer screening policy position

BowelScreen home test

International evidence

Bowel cancer (or Colorectal cancer) is the most common newly-diagnosed cancer and the second most common cause of cancer deaths in Europe.

In the 27 Member States of the European Union, bowel cancer ranks second in incidence and mortality in both sexes, with approximately 330,000 new cases and 149,000 deaths estimated for men and women combined in 2008.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the aim of screening is to lower the burden of cancer in the population by discovering disease at an early stage. This means more effective treatment than if diagnosed later when symptoms occur.

Early treatment can be generally less detrimental for quality of life. Randomised trials in people of average risk invited to attend screening have shown a reduction in deaths from bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer in Ireland

Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in Ireland, after lung cancer. Over 2,700 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in Ireland every year. It is also the second most common cause of cancer death in Ireland. If bowel cancer is found early, it can be successfully treated

Over 50% of patients in Ireland are diagnosed with Stage 3 or 4 bowel cancer – the most advanced stage of bowel cancer. Less than five percent of patients with Stage 4 bowel cancer survive for longer than five years.

Irish Cancer Society position on bowel cancer screening

In 2009, the Irish Cancer Society committed to donating €1 million to the bowel cancer screening programme to ensure that the programme was introduced. BowelScreen, the national bowel cancer screening programme commenced in 2012. The programme offers free bowel cancer screening to people aged 60-69 years of age.

People are sent a home test kit which they complete and post to a testing centre. 95% of tests will be fine but the remainder will require further investigation through a colonoscopy. These are conducted in one of the accredited screening hospitals around the country.

It is planned to extend the age range to 55-74 year olds in time. The Irish Cancer Society are concerned that limited resources available will mean that the timeline for this continues to slip. It was originally to be extended in 2014 but this has been extended to 2021.

We also have concerns about the capacity of hospitals to cope with the additional colonoscopies that BowelScreen is generating. Hospitals need the resources in order to make the programme work. This is why the Irish Cancer Society has donated €1 million and why we advocate for the HSE and the Department of Health to show similar commitment.


BowelScreen, the national bowel screening programme, sends people in the 60 to 69 year old age group a letter asking them to take part in the programme. Men and women who are called for screening and who are willing to take part in the screening programme are sent a home test kit called FIT (Faecal Immunochemical Test) in the post.

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