Let’s Talk… Bowel Screening

Bowel (or colorectal) cancer is the second most common cancer in Australia. Some 14,000 Australians are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year.

Around 90% of cases can be successfully treated if the cancer’s detected early.

Australia’s National Bowel Screening Program is free and has the potential to save your life.

Who needs bowel screening?

Everyone aged between 50 and 74. If you’re in that age group, you’ll be sent a free bowel screening test in the mail every two years. It’ll be sent to the address on your Medicare card. If you don’t receive it, you can request another one.

Should I do the test?

Definitely. Don’t stick it in a drawer and forget about it.

Bowel cancer can start and grow with no symptoms or family history, even if you’re fit and healthy.

The at-home faecal occult blood test (FOBT) kit you receive in the mail is the most effective population screening tool to detect early bowel cancer signs.

Doing the test could save your life.

How do I do the test?

Relax. It’s easier than you think and will only take a few minutes. You need to collect two poo samples from two separate poos.

Your free kit contains everything you need, including instructions.

The four steps are:

  1. Prepare – Complete your participant details on the sheet provided, write your details on the two collection tubes and leave your test kit in the bathroom to remind you to do the test.
  2. Collect – Do a wee and flush the toilet, put the flushable paper liner in the toilet bowl and poo on the paper. Open the tube, scrape its tip into the poo to get a tiny sample, put the stick back in the tube, click the lid shut and shake it up and down.
  3. Store and repeat – Put the tube in the ziplock bag so it’s airtight, and store in your fridge. Repeat the steps to collect another sample when you next do a poo.
  4. Send – Put your participant details form and two collection tubes (in the ziplock bag) into the reply paid envelope and post within 24 hours.

When will I get my results and what should I do then?

You should get your test results within two weeks. Your GP will also get a copy of your results.

If your result is negative (no blood detected), you don’t need to do anything. Just keep doing the test every two years. Maybe make a note to chat with your GP at your next visit about the lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk of bowel cancer, which is one of the most preventable cancers.

If your result is positive (blood found), you should see your GP straight away. Don’t panic, there could be several reasons. Your doctor will talk with you about follow-up tests, like a colonoscopy, and the next steps for you.

What if I have symptoms and I’m not due to do the free screening test yet?

Don’t wait for a test kit. There could be many reasons for your symptoms, many of them very simple and easy to treat.

You should see your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • bleeding from your back passage (anus) or any sign of blood when you poo
  • any change in your usual bowel habits, such as recurrent constipation or diarrhoea
  • recurrent abdominal pain or bloating
  • unexpected weight loss
  • anaemia symptoms, like tiredness, weakness or breathlessness

Your GP will chat with you about your symptoms, understand your risk factors and work with you to work out what’s going on.

Have symptoms, or questions about bowel screening? Your GP can guide you through all the info, options and resources. Book online to visit your Caroline Springs doctor consulting from Active Medical or call 03 9363 0954.

Find out more:

Cancer Council

Cancer Council Victoria

Health Direc