Bowel Cancer Screening – Who should get screened and how often?

What is Bowel Cancer?

Bowel Cancer also known as colorectal, colon or rectal cancer depending on where the cancer is located, can affect any part of the large bowel (colon) or rectum. Most cancers start as benign growths called polyps and are usually harmless, however some become cancerous.

The risk of having bowel cancer can be increased by smoking, eating red and processed meats, drinking alcohol and being overweight or obese. Age, family history, hereditary conditions, and personal health history also influence bowel cancer risk.

Who should get screened and how often?  

Bowel cancer affects young and ageing people, is one of the top five causes of premature death among Australians aged 45-74, and is the seventh leading cause of death among those aged 25-44. The risk of developing bowel cancer rises sharply and progressively from age 50, however diagnosis rates in young people have been rising steadily. The good news is that almost 90% of bowel cancer cases can be treated effectively when detected early.

If you are over the age of 50, have no family or personal history, or an inherited gene mutation,you need to screen every 1-2 years using a Faecal Immunochemical Test at home (FIT). The test involves placing small samples of toilet water or stool on a special card, and returning the samples in a pre-paid envelope to a laboratory. By 2020 eligible people aged between 50-74 will receive a free national screening kit in the post every two years. For more information and to find out when you will receive your kit click here.

If you are not eligible for the above, or need to test sooner than your prescribed year, the test can be purchased from participating pharmacies or through Bowel Cancer Australia by calling 1800 555 494 or online.

It is also possible to be screened by a GP.

If your family has a history of bowel cancer, you need extra screening, and this may involve having a colonoscopy every five years. Make an appointment with your GP to find out how and when you need to start having regular check-ups.

The above information was taken from the Bowel Cancer Australia and the National Bowel Screening Programme websites, for more information you can visit Bowel Cancer Australia or Cancer Screening websites.