June is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month in Australia. About 80 Australians die every week from bowel cancer.  Detecting bowel cancer at an early stage, before symptoms develop is easier to treat and has increased survival rates . Most bowel cancers are diagnosed in those over 50 years of age. The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program ( NBCSP) invites those turning 50, 55, 60, 65, 70, and 75 years of age to take part ( about 4 million Australians, in whom more than 12 000 suspected or confirmed cancers will be detected in one year) . The program uses an immunological faecal occult blood test to screen for bowel cancer ( iFOBT) . The kit is used to collect tiny stool sample on a card, which is sealed and sent to the screening laboratory to be checked for traces of blood. Completing the test is quick, easy and can be done in the privacy of your own home. If positive, the information is forwarded to your GP and yourself to arrange for further investigation. Cancer is only one of several causes for blood to be detected by the kit. For more information about the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program , to check if you are eligible or to have a replacement kit sent to you, phone 1800 118 868 or

If you are not eligible to participate in the NBCSP, there are a number of ways that you can still be screened. Selected pharmacies have FOBT kits available to purchase, GPs can refer a patient to a pathology laboratory to complete a iFOBT. and if your risk of developing a bowel cancer is increased, may refer you for a screening colonoscopy. Screening is only appropriate for those without bowel symptoms.

Groups known to be at increased risk of developing bowel cancer may be referred for regular colonoscopies for screening. These groups include :


  • Already treated for bowel cancer or polyps
  • Family history ( 1 in 10 families are affected) and some families with genes which strongly predispose them to bowel cancer. The closer any affected relative is to you and the younger when their cancer developed, the more significant the link for you. The usual yardstick for screening is 15 years before the age of your youngest close relative developed cancer. If you have a family history of a grandparent in their 60s or 70s who dies of bowel cancer, your lifetime risk of developing a bowel cancer is very slightly  increased above those with no family history.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohns and Ulcerative Colitis

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