Bowel cancer screening
Bowel (colorectal) cancer is a very common cancer in Australia. Every year, about 7100 women and 8300 men in Australia are expected to be diagnosed with bowel (colorectal) cancer in 2020.
National Bowel Cancer Screening Program
Being screened for bowel cancer when you don’t have any symptoms can help find early changes in the bowel. Bowel cancer testing kits, known as immunochemical faecal occult blood tests or iFOBTs, can find microscopic traces of blood in a bowel motion that may indicate there is a problem.
Through the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, eligible Australians aged 50–74 are automatically sent a free iFOBT kit every two years to complete at home. If blood is found in your bowel motion (a positive result), you will be referred to your GP for further tests. A positive result doesn’t necessarily mean you have bowel cancer.
For more information or to check your eligibility, call 1800 627 701 or visit cancerscreening.gov.au.
Bowel cancer usually develops from small growths on the bowel wall called polyps. Most polyps are harmless, but some become cancerous over time.
The risk of developing bowel cancer increases with age – bowel cancer is most common in people aged 50 or older, but it can affect people of any age.
People who have a parent or sibling with bowel cancer are more likely to develop the disease. Other risk factors include a history of bowel polyps or inflammatory bowel disease, being overweight, drinking alcohol, having an unhealthy diet and not being physically active. Genetic conditions cause a small number of bowel cancers.
Reducing your risk
Eating a nutritious diet is one of the most important ways you can reduce your risk of bowel cancer – cut out processed meat, eat less red meat, and eat plenty of wholegrains and high-fibre foods such as legumes, vegetables and fruit.
Making other healthy lifestyle choices may also help reduce the risk. These include maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, drinking less alcohol and not smoking.
If you’re aged 50–74, take part in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.
If you have a strong family history of bowel cancer or a genetic condition that can cause bowel cancer, ask your GP whether you need to have more regular tests and start screening at an earlier age.
Finding bowel cancer early
Bowel cancer can usually be treated successfully if it is found early. Most early-stage bowel cancers do not have symptoms, so it is important to take part in bowel cancer screening. Don’t let embarrassment stop you from getting checked.
What should I look out for?
- blood in a bowel motion (poo), in the toilet bowl or on toilet paper
- changed bowel habits, such as constipation, diarrhoea or more frequent bowel motions
- a feeling that the bowel hasn’t completely emptied after a bowel motion
- a feeling of fullness or bloating in the bowel
- pain in the rectum or anus.
These symptoms are common and do not necessarily mean you have bowel cancer, but you should see your GP if you have any symptoms.