What is Bowel Cancer?
Bowel cancer (also known as colorectal cancer) affects the large bowel (colon) and rectum. It is one of the most common types of cancer in Australia.
How does Bowel Cancer form?
Most bowel cancers form from small growths or “polyps” in the large bowel or rectum. Over time some polyps can slowly progress to form cancer. Removal of these polyps at an early stage can prevent cancer. This is why screening is important (see below).
What are the symptoms of Bowel Cancer?
Bowel cancer may not cause symptoms during the early stages. The common symptoms of bowel cancer can include: iron deficiency, blood in the bowel motions, change in bowel habit, abdominal discomfort, persistent lethargy, or weight loss.
What tests are available for Bowel Cancer screening?
Screening can help identify bowel cancer at an early and potentially curable stage. Bowel cancer screening may initially include a faecal occult blood test (FOBT), which can be performed at home, and subsequently sent to the pathology laboratory for analysis. A colonoscopy (hyperlink) may also be recommended.
What is the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program?
The Australian Government introduced the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program in 2008. The eligibility criteria for this program are:
> those turning 50 years of age between January 2008 and December 2010
> those turning 55-65 years of age between July 2008 and December 2010
If you have any of the symptoms listed above, you should seek further advice from your doctor.
What if I don’t meet National Bowel Cancer Screening Program criteria?
The current criteria for the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is the second phase of the program, and is aimed at introducing the program slowly so that health services can meet the increased demand. It does not currently include people between the ages of 50-55. You should seek further advice from your doctor if you fit into this category and would like to undergo screening for bowel cancer.
Screening may be recommended at an earlier age if the risk of colon cancer is higher. This can include people with a family history of bowel cancer or multiple polyps. Your doctor can provide you with more advice on your risk of bowel cancer, and the most appropriate age for screening.