Cancer: what tests to have and when to have them

Finding cancer early improves your chances of successful treatment and long-term survival

Bowel cancer screening
Your risk of developing bowel cancer increases with age and Cancer Council recommends everyone takes a screening test every two years from the age of 50.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening program uses the faecal occult blood test (FOBT) to detect hidden blood in bowel motions. People without symptoms aged 50, 55 and 65 are eligible to participate. From 1 July 2013, people turning 60 will be included; people turning 70 will be added in 2015.

Participants receive a test kit in the mail, take samples at home and mail them to a pathologist for analysis. If blood is detected, further tests may be required.

The Australian Government has committed to expanding the program to everyone 50 and over, every two years, but in the meantime we recommend you get tested every two years.

Your GP may provide you with a test kit, or can refer you to a pathology service, where the test will be carried out. Test kits are available on the internet and from some pharmacies and private health funds.However, you should discuss the use of FOBT kits with your GP before you use one.

You are at greater risk of bowel cancer, and should discuss your risk with your GP, if you have: 

  • a previous history of polyps in the bowel
  • a previous history of bowel cancer
  • chronic inflammatory bowel disease (eg. Crohn’s disease)
  • a strong family history of bowel cancer
  • increased insulin levels or type 2 diabetes

Click NEXT to find out more cancer screening advice

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    To make a comment, please register or login
    6th Sep 2012
    In 1996, after doing my father's family history and learning there were a number of deaths from bowel cancer, I told my GP and asked to be tested. A FOBT came back positive, so I had a Colonoscopy by a General Surgeon. He did not find anything.

    Four years later, although I had no obvious symptoms, I asked for repeat testing. The FOBT test again came back positive for occult (hidden) blood. A colonoscopy by the same general surgeon showed that I had fairly advanced cancer - but apparently no spread to other organs.

    After treatment with radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery (by a Colorectal Specialist Surgeon), I am still clear. I now have a colonoscopy every three years, and have twice had polyps painlessly removed during the procedure.

    I would recommend that everyone with a family history does the FOBT every two years from the age of forty. I would also recommend that everyone over fifty (even if you don't have a family history) has a colonoscopy every two to three years - by a gastroenterologist or colorectal surgeon.

    I believe that the General Surgeon missed the (early stage) cancer in 1996, and that if I had not asked for a second lot of testing in 2000, I would not be here today. I also know (and statistics support this) that changing to a Colorectal Surgeon also saved me from having a permanent colostomy (bag to collect faeces) - and probably my life.

    Bowel Cancer is very sneaky, often has no symptoms, but is easily diagnosed and has a very good survival rate if caught early.

    Don't die of embarrassment - do the testing!!!!!
    9th Feb 2013
    My wife died from bowel cancer after 9 years with severe constipation after all the doctors said she had Gall Bladder Problems. My daughter went to the local Hospital when she had problems with her legs after getting out of bed. The doctor sent her home. She died that night. I had a frozen shoulder but all the doctors said it was Osteoporisis. It was an Indian doctor who correctly diagnosed it. It is so sad that for 30 years doctors have been misdiagnosing causing deaths. It was the pre Worker's Generation doctors who kept the Hippocratic Oath DO NO HARM.
    7th Apr 2013
    Saw some disturbing cancer news recently. It was an independent scientific report. About the effects the decline in the quality of food and fruit and how it affects everyone's health. It was on a short video here
    8th Apr 2013
    The very old saying still applies - "lawyers failures get hung six feet high, and doctors failures get buried six feet under". If you feel something is not right, or you are not sure about what the doctors are telling you - get a second - or third opinion (preferably from an entirely different hospital or medical practice). Doctors are fallible!

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