Bowel cancer screening

Screening is the process of looking for polyps or cancer in people who don’t have any symptoms. It is particularly important for bowel cancer, which often has no symptoms in its early stages.

The faecal occult blood test (FOBT) looks for microscopic traces of blood in your stools, which may be a sign of polyps, cancer or another bowel condition. An FOBT does not diagnose cancer, but if it finds blood, your doctor will recommend you have a colonoscopy within 30 days.

Everyone over 50 should have an FOBT every two years. Finding bowel cancer early can significantly improve the chance of surviving the disease. Through the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, people aged 50 to 74 are automatically sent a free FOBT kit. A kit can also be purchased from some pharmacies.

You complete the test at home. For more information, phone 1800 118 868 or see cancerscreening.gov.au.

The FOBT is only for low-risk people without symptoms of bowel cancer. Anyone with symptoms of bowel cancer must talk to their doctor about having a colonoscopy or other tests.

If you have a strong family history or a genetic condition linked to bowel cancer, the FOBT is not the right test for you. You and other family members may need screening colonoscopies.

A screening colonoscopy is recommended for high-risk people at 50 years of age, or 10 years before the earliest age a family member was diagnosed with bowel cancer, whichever comes first. Your doctor will let you know how often the test should be repeated.


This information was last reviewed in February 2017
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