Press release

If you’re aged 59 to 69, it’s never too late to take your first bowel cancer screening test with BowelScreen

Published: 2 April 2024

  • Bowel cancer is the second most common of all cancers in men in Ireland and the third in women.
  • Bowel screening can prevent cancer from developing and help find it before symptoms start.

Marking Bowel Cancer Awareness Month this April, the HSE’s free national bowel cancer screening programme is reassuring people aged 59-69 that it’s never too late to take the first test.

Mary Kennedy, from Castleknock in Dublin, is glad she took her first test aged 61. Mary had no symptoms of bowel cancer and was shocked when cancer was found, “I want to shout about BowelScreen from the rooftops. I had no symptoms, I was walking, swimming and enjoying my retirement. I wasn’t losing weight or fatigued and I didn’t see blood when I went to the loo. I had keyhole surgery to remove the cancer and, thankfully, I didn’t need further treatment. I got the all-clear three and a half months after my first BowelScreen test.

“Even though I had cancer I feel so lucky. I’m so glad I chose to take the BowelScreen test, and my cancer was discovered early. I had a good experience with the whole programme. I’m so grateful for screening.

“BowelScreen is free and is another way I can look after my health, so why not choose to take part?”

Whether choosing screening for the first time or have previously received a test kit but didn’t use it, make April the month to get in touch with BowelScreen. BowelScreen invites men and women between 59 and 69 to take a test every two years, following these steps:

  • Register online to find out more and take part - the simple FIT kit test is sent to your home.
  • Follow the FIT kit instructions in the privacy of your own loo.
  • Using the kit take a sample of your poo and post it back to BowelScreen in a plain freepost envelope.
  • Your results will be sent out to you within four weeks.

The test looks for a level of blood in your poo. If it is found, BowelScreen will invite you for a follow-up test, called a colonoscopy. This is where a camera on the end of a small tube is used to look for any changes inside your bowel.

Hilary Coffey, BowelScreen Programme Manager, said: “We’re thankful to Mary for sharing her story which shows the positive impact of choosing screening. This month we are keen for people aged 59 to 69 who have, for whatever reason, not taken up their screening invitation, to hear Mary’s story and reconsider. We know that 90% of people who take one BowelScreen test go on to complete future tests when they’re invited, reducing their overall chance of developing bowel cancer. Anyone who is unsure of how to get a test or who wants information or guidance can contact us to find out more.”

Professor Padraic MacMathuna, Clinical Director of BowelScreen, said: “For the majority of people the FIT kit will be the only test needed. About 4% of people are referred for a follow-up colonoscopy. This is where we look for and remove pre-cancerous changes, called polyps, from the lining of the bowel. We know that most bowel cancers develop from polyps so by doing this we can prevent cancer. For the small number of people who, like Mary, have cancer found through screening it is usually discovered at an earlier stage, before symptoms have started when treatment is less invasive and more likely to be successful.

“Bowel screening is an important part of the normal healthcare routine for eligible people, but it won’t find all signs of disease. Cancer can develop at any time and not all bowel changes will bleed all the time. If you are experiencing symptoms, including changes in bowel habit, unexplained weight loss and blood in your poo then you should see a GP, even if you have recently had screening or it’s due. Please don’t wait for screening.”

You will receive your first BowelScreen invitation between the ages of 59 and 61. If you haven’t received yours when expected, please contact us and we will check you are on our register and that we have the correct contact information for you. If you received a test but have misplaced it, contact us to get another one.

For more information, visit

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