Background Inequalities in uptake of cancer screening by ethnic minority populations are well documented in a number of international studies. However, most studies to date have explored screening uptake for a single cancer only. This paper compares breast and bowel cancer screening uptake for a cohort of South Asian women invited to undertake both, and similarly investigates these women's breast cancer screening behaviour over a period of fifteen years. Methods Screening data for rounds 1, 2 and 5 (1989-2004) of the NHS breast cancer screening programme and for round 1 of the NHS bowel screening pilot (2000-2002) were obtained for women aged 50-69 resident in the English bowel screening pilot site, Coventry and Warwickshire, who had been invited to undertake breast and bowel cancer screening in the period 2000-2002. Breast and bowel cancer screening uptake levels were calculated and compared using the chi-squared test. Results 72,566 women were invited to breast and bowel cancer screening after exclusions. Of these, 3,539 were South Asian and 69,027 non-Asian; 18,730 had been invited to mammography over the previous fifteen years (rounds 1 to 5). South Asian women were significantly less likely to undertake both breast and bowel cancer screening; 29.9% (n = 1,057) compared to 59.4% (n = 40,969) for non-Asians (p <0.001). Women in both groups who consistently chose to undertake breast cancer screening in rounds 1, 2 and 5 were more likely to complete round 1 bowel cancer screening. However, the likelihood of completion of bowel cancer screening was still significantly lower for South Asians; 49.5% vs. 82.3% for non-Asians, p <0.001. South Asian women who undertook breast cancer screening in only one round were no more likely to complete bowel cancer screening than those who decided against breast cancer screening in all three rounds. In contrast, similar women in the non-Asian population had an increased likelihood of completing the new bowel cancer screening test. The likelihood of continued uptake of mammography after undertaking screening in round 1 differed between South Asian religio-linguistic groups. Noticeably, women in the Muslim population were less likely to continue to participate in mammography than those in other South Asian groups.