Tessa Jowell, the Minister of Public Health, is to launch a two to three- year pilot screening programme for one million people in England and Scotland.
The programme is being backed by Stephanie Moore, widow of Bobby Moore, who captained the English football team to World Cup victory in 1966. Bobby Moore died from bowel cancer in 1993 and his widow, a British Airways stewardess, has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the disease.
Bowel cancer has not received such a high profile as breast or lung cancer because sufferers are often too embarrassed to discuss its symptoms publicly.
"It is time to break the taboo of bowel cancer," said Ms Jowell. "Tens of thousands of people are suffering in silence. These pilot screening programmes are designed to raise people's awareness of this problem and help people to get help at an early stage."
Earlier this year, Frank Dobson, the Health Secretary, allocated pounds 10m for treatment of people with bowel cancer to improve services, access to treatment and reduce waiting times.
Bowel cancer is one of the top killers in the country after lung cancer but if detected early it need not be life-threatening. More than 31,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with the disease each year. The main symptoms include pain and discomfort in the bowel and rectal bleeding.
The pilot screening scheme, which may be extended across Britain if successful and cost-effective, will target men and women aged between 50 and 69, the group most susceptible to the disease.
They will receive home testing kits, enabling them to send samples to laboratories for immediate analysis.
The pilot scheme is also being backed by Lynn Faulds Wood, the former BBC Watchdog presenter who suffered from colo-rectal cancer five years ago. She founded the Crocus Trust campaign organisation after being mis- diagnosed for a year.
The announcement will be welcomed by campaign groups, such as the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, which has been conducting its own pilot study into methods of screening for bowel cancer.
"Bowel cancer is a bit like cervical cancer - it has a pre-cancerous stage," said a spokeswoman for the fund. "If you remove a growth at that stage, it can be prevented."Reuse content