Who is eligible to take part in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program?
People between the ages of 50 and 74 are eligible for a free bowel screening test and will be sent one in the mail every two years.
You will receive a letter inviting you to participate in the National Bowel Screening Program around your 50th Birthday, or up to 6 months later. A free bowel screening test kit will be sent in the mail with directions on how to do the test. When you turn 74, you will receive your final test kit from the program.
If you live in hotter areas of Australia, you will be sent the kit in the cooler months of the year.
If you don’t do the test, you will be invited again two years later.
What if I'm under 50 or over 74?
One reason why screening isn’t recommended for people younger than 50 is because bowel cancer is much rarer for younger Australians. We can have the biggest life saving impact by testing all Australians aged 50 to 74. The age limit of 74 years is in line with advice from the National Health and Medical Research Council.
People at any age who have symptoms or a significant family history of bowel cancer, should see a doctor or their healthcare professional. You can also visit the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program website.
What if I haven’t received a letter?
If you don’t get a letter within 6 months of your 50th birthday, check that your Medicare details are up to date, and call the National Cancer Screening Register on 1800 627 701.
Why do I need to screen for bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers in Australia. It affects men and women, and is the second leading cause of cancer death.
Regular screening for people aged 50 to 74 is important as bowel cancer can occur without obvious symptoms.
If detected early, over 90 per cent of bowel cancers can be successfully treated.
Your risk of developing bowel cancer is greater if you:
- are aged 50 years and over, as risk gets higher with age;
- have had an inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis;
- have had special types of polyps, called adenomas, in the bowel; or
- have a significant family history of bowel cancer or polyps.
If you have any of the above risk factors it is important to seek advice from your GP about the best approach to risk management and screening.
How do I screen for bowel cancer?
Testing for bowel cancer uses a simple, at-home test called a faecal occult blood test (FOBT). This test looks for traces of blood in poo which are invisible and could be a sign of bowel cancer.
Australians aged 50 to 74 years old will receive a free screening test in the mail every two years with instructions on how to do the test.
To do the free test, you need to collect a tiny sample from two separate poos using the test kit. You then need to put the samples in the supplied envelope and mail it to a laboratory who checks the samples for blood.
If your test result is positive, you will receive a letter recommending that you speak to your doctor about follow-up tests, usually a colonoscopy, to determine the cause of blood in your poo. If your test is negative, you will be invited to re-screen in two years from the date of your last test results.
How does the bowel screening test work?
The screening program is based on the in-home use of a faecal occult blood test (FOBT). The test looks for traces of blood in a sample of poo. Two samples are required. If you test positive, you should visit your GP to discuss your result. Your GP may refer you for colonoscopy for further investigation.
What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer can develop without any obvious symptoms. This is why it is important to do the screening test.
If symptoms do appear, they can include:
- blood in your poo, or in the toilet bowl;
- a recent and ongoing change in your toilet habits. This includes looser poos, very bad constipation and/or if you need to poo more often than usual;
- unusual tiredness or weight loss;
- stomach pain.
If you notice any of these symptoms, speak to your doctor.
What if my test is positive – does that mean I have cancer?
A positive result means that traces of blood were found in your sample. Blood may be present because of reasons other than cancer, such as polyps or haemorrhoids, but needs to be looked into.
If you receive a positive test result, you will receive a letter asking you to speak to a doctor about follow-up tests. This is usually a colonoscopy.
People who have a negative result will also receive a letter and be re-invited to screen again in two years’ time.
If you have recently done a bowel screening test and have not received your results in the mail, you or your GP can call the National Cancer Screening Register on 1800 627 791.
What is a significant family history of bowel cancer?
If you have a significant family history of bowel cancer, it's important to talk to your doctor. Knowing who in your family had bowel cancer and the age they were diagnosed, can help your doctor assess your risk. It may also be helpful for your doctor to know if you have a family history of any other cancers.
You may have a significant family history of bowel cancer if:
- a close relative (parent, brother, sister or child) had bowel cancer at a young age (under 55 years); or
- more than one close relative in your family has had bowel cancer at any age.
It is important to know that more than 75 per cent of people with bowel cancer do not have a family history. If you have a significant family history of bowel cancer, it's important to seek advice from doctor on the best approach to risk management and screening. Knowing which of your relatives has had bowel cancer and the ages at which they were diagnosed can help your doctor estimate your risk. It may also be helpful for your doctor to know if you have a family history of any other cancers.
What if I threw away or lost my screening kit?
If you have lost or thrown away your test kit from the Program, you can order a free replacement kit by clicking on this link here.
You can also contact the National Cancer Screening Register on 1800 627 701. Have your participant number or Medicare number ready to speed up the call.
What if I haven’t received a bowel screening test kit?
If you are aged 50 to 74 and don’t get a bowel screening test kit check that your Medicare details are up to date and call the National Cancer Screening Register on 1800 627 701. Alternatively, you can reorder a test kit by visiting www.ncsr.gov.au.
What if I'm overseas?
The program only collects test results from within Australia.
Visit the National Cancer Screening Register website to change your screening date. You can also select to not be part of the program while you are overseas.
When you return to Australia, you can start the program again at any time.