Bowel Cancer Screening

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, and one of the most treatable cancers, if detected early.

How does Bowel Cancer form?

Most bowel cancers develop from small growths or “polyps” of the large bowel lining. Over time, some polyps can slowly progress to cancer. Removal of these polyps at an early stage can prevent cancer. This is why screening is so important.

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, tiredness, or unexpected weight loss. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms then you should consult your doctor.

What tests are available for Bowel Cancer screening?

Screening can help identify bowel cancer at an early and potentially curable stage before there are any symptoms. Bowel cancer screening for the general population in Australia includes a faecal occult blood test (FOBT), which can be performed at home, and subsequently sent to the pathology laboratory for analysis. If positive, a colonoscopy is recommended. Some people with a strong family history of bowel cancer may be advised to have screening colonoscopy without first having an FOBT.

What is the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program?

The Australian Government National Bowel Cancer Screening Program mails all Australians aged 50 to 74 years, an invitation to perform an FOBT every two years.
Screening is for people who do not have any symptoms. If you have any of the symptoms listed above, you should seek further advice from your doctor.

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.

Where can I get more information?

Bowel Cancer Australia

National Bowel Cancer Screening Program

Information Sheet