Australians turning 50, 55 and 65 years of age between January 2008 and December 2010 will be offered a free ‘one-off’ bowel cancer screening test, in phase 2 of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program which began in July. Bowel cancer is the most common internal cancer in Australia.

The screening test is the Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) which detects small amounts of blood in the bowel motions. Blood can be an early sign of bowel cancer or polyps (precancerous growths). You perform the FOBT at home and post it to the laboratory for analysis.

Many people missing out

The national screening program has been criticised for not going far enough. Australia’s peak health body, the National Health and Medical Research Council, recommends that all Australians have FOBT at least every 2 years from the age of 50. Regular tests can reduce your risk of dying from bowel cancer by up to one third.

The NHMRC advises higher-risk patients, e.g. those with past bowel polyps or a significant family history of bowel cancer, to have regular colonoscopy. This test involves passing a flexible tube with a camera into the bowel, under sedation.

Speak to your doctor

If you are 50 years or older and have NO bowel symptoms, ask your doctor about having regular testing. If you do not currently qualify for the screening program you can purchase FOBT kits for a modest fee.

However, if DO HAVE bowel symptoms at any time, see your GP for assessment. These include:

  • A persistent change in your bowel habits, e.g. constipation, diarrhoea or abdominal pain
  • Unexplained weight loss or tiredness

Cancer Helpline 13 11 20

National Bowel Cancer Screening Program
National Health and Medical Research Council Guidelines

Health Update, 2 August 2008

Please note this information was correct at time of publication.
For up to date information, speak to your doctor.

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