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The Scottish National Bowel Cancer Screening Programme aims to detect asymptomatic colorectal carcinomas and improve outcomes by identifying tumours at an earlier stage. We describe the characteristics of bowel cancers diagnosed through the screening programme since it was established in June 2007 by comparison with colorectal carcinomas from all other referral sources.All patients with colorectal cancer discussed by our regional colorectal multidisciplinary team (MDT) from June 2007 to August 2011 were included. Patient and tumour characteristics were collated prospectively from MDT records. The database was then reviewed retrospectively.During the study 209 916 (58%) of 364 759 invitations to participate in screening were accepted yielding 3895 (1.9%) positive results. The 255 (17%) screening-detected (SD) patients and 1232 (83%) other referrals (ORs) were discussed at the MDT within this period. Median age at diagnosis was 65.5 years for SD vs. 71.6 in OR (P < 0.001) with 64% vs. 53% male [SD vs. OR (P < 0.001)]. There were more left-sided tumours in SD (P = 0.005). Tumours were less advanced in SD group (P = 0.02) and more likely to undergo a laparoscopic resection (P = 0.003). Thirty (11.7%) of SD patients were dead at last follow-up compared with 458 (37.2%) of those from other sources (P < 0.001).This cohort from a centre with an established screening programme supports the effect of screening in detecting earlier stage. Those with screen-detected tumours were more likely to survive than patients from the OR group.