Medical guidelines in Australia recommend screening for bowel cancer at least once every two years from the age of 50.
However, bowel cancer does affect people under 50 years of age. Around 7% of people diagnosed with bowel cancer in Australia are aged less than 50, which according to the latest available statistics in 2011 totalled 1,091 people.
We urge all Australian adults to be aware of bowel cancer and consider whether screening before the recommended age of 50 is right for you. Speak to your GP if you have any questions or concerns.
These simple at-home screening tests look for blood in your bowel movement – a common sign of a bowel abnormality - that might be invisible to the naked eye. It does not test for cancer.
If your result is positive you will be advised by letter to contact your GP to discuss the result. You will generally be referred for a follow up colonoscopy to find out what is causing the bleeding.
Around 7% of people will have a positive test result. This may be due to conditions other than cancer, such as polyps, haemorrhoids, or inflammation of the bowel. There is a 30-45% chance of the cause being due to polyps, and less than a 10% chance of the cause being bowel cancer.
A negative test result indicates that no blood was detected in your bowel movement.
It is important to note however that screening tests are not always 100% accurate, particularly because cancers and precancerous growths only bleed intermittently. The test should be repeated at least every two years to increase the chances of early detection. Consult your GP if symptoms develop, regardless of your last screening test result.
There are several different screening tests and the method of completing them varies. The ColoVantage Home test available online and through pharmacies simply requires brushing the surface of two separate bowel movements and swabbing the water sample onto a test card. The card is then posted for pathology lab testing with the results returned to both you and your doctor within 14 days. There is no need for you to change your diet or medication as part of this test.
We are fortunate in Australia to have free screening available through the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) which you may be eligible for.
To purchase a bowel screening test online for $39.95, click here.
Bowel screening tests are available from a range of pharmacies for $39.95 each.
Your GP may have tests available. You may be able to claim a Medicare benefit for the pathology fee payable when you return the sample card for testing, provided you include a pathology form from your GP.
Many health funds provide a rebate for the full cost of the test. This rebate is not available if you have claimed a Medicare benefit.
Australians turning 50, 55, 60, 64, 65, 70, 72 and 74 years of age, who hold a Medicare card or Department of Veterans’ Affairs card, are currently invited to take part in the Program. From 1 January 2017, people turning 68, 58 and 54 will also be invited to participate. By 2020 the NBCSP will be available to all Australians every two years from age 50.
If you are eligible for the NBCSP, you will receive a test kit in the mail close to your birthday. We urge you to take the test – it might just save your life. If you are unsure whether you are eligible, or are seeking more information about the NBCSP, go to www.cancerscreening.gov.au.
The test involves brushing a collection stick briefly along your bowel movement and placing the stick into the collection tube. This is done for two separate bowel movements. There is no requirement to change your medication or diet as part of the test.
Detailed information on how to collect samples for the NBCSP are provided with the test kit. More information is available online.