Bowel cancer screening: The gift that could save your life

If you’ve turned 50, you may have received a bowel cancer screening kit in the post. We explain what it is and why it’s so important. 

It’s important to get screened for bowel cancer, as you may not notice any symptoms and screening is the best way to detect bowel cancer in its early stages. If bowel cancer is caught early you have a 90 percent chance of successful treatment. 

When should I get screened for bowel cancer?

Research has shown that the risk of getting bowel cancer rises significantly from the age of 50, which is why all people in Australia aged 50-plus are advised to get screened for bowel cancer at least once every two years. 

If you have a bowel condition such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, or have a family history of bowel cancer or other hereditary bowel conditions, you may be advised to get screened earlier and/or have more frequent screenings. 

Talk to your doctor to discuss your individual risk. 

Why do I need to get screened for bowel cancer? 

It’s not easy to notice the symptoms of bowel cancer when it’s in its early stages as the signs are often very minor. 

One of the most common signs of bowel cancer is blood in your faeces (poo). However, this blood is often invisible to the naked eye as it’s usually only in small amounts, caused by bleeding from the polyps (lumps of cells) in your colon or rectum (parts of the large intestine). 

What does bowel cancer screening involve? 

Generally, you can do a bowel cancer screening test at home, placing a small amount of your faeces or toilet water on a card for a few days and mailing it to a laboratory. The laboratory will analyse your sample for blood and send the results to you and your doctor. 

How can I get a bowel cancer screening? 

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program offers free bowel cancer screening kits to eligible Australians over 50. 

If you've been invited to participate in the program but you're unsure about taking part, talk to your GP about whether or not you need bowel cancer screening.

If you're not eligible to participate in the program but you're interested in bowel cancer screening, speak to your doctor or pharmacist. From time to time, community or consumer organisations like Rotary or Bowel Cancer Australia run screening programs through pharmacies. 
couple speaking to doctor

What does a positive result in my screening test mean?

A positive screening result doesn't necessarily mean you have bowel cancer. The test may have just detected blood in your stools, which can be an early warning sign and may mean you have an increased risk of bowel cancer. 

If you get a positive result, visit your GP within two weeks to discuss your next steps. 

Usually, your GP will try to find out if you've experienced symptoms that may indicate bowel cancer, and investigate any family medical history. They may then recommend further testing, often with a colonoscopy. 

Bupa Health Insurance

Bupa Health Insurance members are covered for one bowel cancer screening kit every year.

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