Free bowel cancer tests save lives

While Australia continues to have among the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world, only two in five eligible people are participating in the Australian Government’s National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP).

According to Cancer Australia, bowel cancer is easily treated if detected early, yet despite this advice people are not taking the opportunity to submit to free testing.

“Bowel cancer is predicted to be the second most common cause of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in Australia in 2017, yet a majority of people eligible for the program are not taking up the opportunity to participate,” said Cancer Australia Chief Executive Dr Helen Zorbas.

“This is particularly concerning in light of increasing numbers of people being diagnosed with and dying from bowel cancer, when we know that screening can prevent or find cancer early, when it can be successfully treated. If detected at the earliest stage, the five-year survival rate for bowel cancer is 93 per cent,” Dr Zorbas said.

Bowel cancer incidence is increasing, with 16,682 people (9127 men and 7555 women) expected to be diagnosed in 2017, compared to 6986 in 1982. Men are more likely to be diagnosed with, and die, from bowel cancer, and they are also less likely than women to participate in bowel cancer screening.

Most bowel cancers develop from non-malignant growths on the wall of the bowel called adenomas. These benign growths have the potential to become cancerous, and their removal lowers the risk of future bowel cancers. One in eight participants who were recalled for assessment through the NBCSP were diagnosed with adenomas.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program invites eligible people aged 50-74 to check for the disease using a free, simple test at home.

“When you receive your kit in the mail, don’t hide it in the bottom drawer, instead make it a priority. Complete the simple test and put it in the post – it could save your life,” Dr Zorbas said.

A high intake of processed meat, high alcohol consumption and smoking all increase the risk of bowel cancer, as does being overweight or having an inadequate intake of dietary fibre.

“Bowel cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, and people of all ages can take action to reduce their risk,” said Dr Zorbas.

“It’s also important to know the symptoms of bowel cancer. These include bleeding from the rectum, anaemia, changes in bowel habit, abdominal pain or cramping, bloating, weight loss and unexplained tiredness or fatigue.”

People with a family history should see their doctor for an assessment of risk and advice about management options.

For more information about the National Bowel Screening Program, visit cancerscreening.gov.au or call 1800 118 868. 

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Bowel cancer explained
Tips to reduce bowel cancer risk
The facts about bowel cancer

Written by Ben

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