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

Common symptoms include:  

  • blood in your stools (faeces) or bleeding from your rectum;
  • a change to your normal bowel habits that persists for more than six weeks, such as diarrhoea, constipation or passing stools more frequently than usual;
  • abdominal pain;
  • unexplained weight loss.

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important that you see your GP. 

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 men and women 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. These 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.

Below is a video to show how to use the bowel test kit and also what happens if you are invited to a attend for a colonoscopy. The video is now available in Irish Sign LanguageBritish Sign Language and with subtitles.

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

Bowel cancer: Chris's story


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.