Bowel (colorectal) cancer

There were 1,155 cases of bowel cancer (colorectal) diagnosed in Northern Ireland in 2017. Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers in Northern Ireland. Bowel cancer is more common in older people, especially men.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of bowel cancer can include:

• blood in your poo

• looser poo, pooing more often and/or constipation

• a pain or lump in your tummy

• feeling more tired than usual for some time

• losing weight for no obvious reason

Please remember that these symptoms don’t necessarily mean that you have bowel cancer. But if you have any of these symptoms for 3 weeks or more, please speak with your GP. It is important to do this even if you have recently had bowel cancer screening and/or a colonoscopy.

There is a new test available to GPs to help with managing tummy/bowel symptoms. Your doctor might ask you to do the Faecal Immunochemical Test (qFIT). qFIT is a simple poo test that looks for small traces of human blood in your poo. You collect a sample of poo at home in a simple device and return it to your GP. The qFIT result will help your doctor decide whether to refer you for more tests. qFIT has been shown to help many patients avoid unnecessary intrusive tests and has also helped speed referrals for patients with suspected bowel cancer.

Screening for bowel cancer

Regular cancer screening is important. Screening can detect certain cancers before you have any symptoms. Finding cancers early means that treatment is likely to work best. In Northern Ireland, the Public Health Agency runs a screening programme for bowel cancer. The programme offers screening every two years to all people aged 60 to 74.

Bowel cancer screening uses a home test kit to look for unseen traces of blood in the bowel motions. Blood in the stools can be a sign of bowel cancer so further tests can then be carried out. Screening can also find polyps in the bowel, which are abnormal growths of cells that may develop into cancer later if they are not removed. The aim of bowel cancer screening is to detect bowel cancer at an early stage (in people with no symptoms) when treatment is more likely to be effective.

The test used within the bowel cancer screening programme has recently changed (January 2021). The new test is called a Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT). This test is easier to use and is better at detecting individuals who require further investigations. It is the same test as qFIT, which is used for symptomatic testing and available from your GP.

Below is an information leaflet and animated video explaining how to use the bowel screening test kit

How to take the bowel cancer screening test - information leaflet

How to take the bowel cancer screening test - animated video

Find out more about the Northern Ireland Bowel Cancer Screening Programme.

Bowel cancer: Chris's story(link is external)


There are a number of websites that provide information relating to bowel cancer, these include:

This is not an exhaustive list and other sources of support in Northern Ireland can also be accessed via Northern Ireland Cancer Network(link is external).