Bowel cancer

Mark Baretta talks milestones with bowel cancer survivor, Craig.

Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers in Australia with millions of Australians screening for the disease every year. It affects men and women, and is the second leading cause of cancer death. Free home screening kits are sent to people aged 50-74 all over Australia. Early detection can help prevent bowel cancer in 90% of cases.  

If participation in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program increases to and sustains at 60%, 84,000 lives could be saved by 2040.

Don’t put off the chance to save your life – take the test. 

Why test for bowel cancer?

Once you reach the age of 50, your chance of developing bowel cancer rises. Regular screening is important as bowel cancer can occur without obvious symptoms or any family history. 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. 

What is the free bowel screening test?

Screening for bowel cancer involves a simple, at-home test called a faecal occult blood test (FOBT). This bowel cancer screening test looks for traces of blood in the poo which are invisible to the human eye and could be a sign of bowel cancer. The test is free to people aged 50-74 and can be done completely hygienically.

Am I eligible?

If you’re between the age of 50 and 74, you’re eligible for a free test from the National Bowel Cancer Screening program every two years.  

You should not do the test if you have:  

  • your period or finished your period less than three days ago  
  • haemorrhoids (piles) that are bleeding  
  •  recently had a colonoscopy  
  •  blood in your urine, poo, or in the toilet bowl – if this happens, speak to a GP  

You should speak to a GP if you have:  

For more information, visit the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program website

Is the test free?

Yes. If you’re aged between 50 and 74 your bowel test kits are free. You will receive a free test kit in the mail every two years. The pack will also include a postage paid return envelope.

When will I receive the test?

You will be invited to do the test every two years until you turn 74. 

Your test will arrive at the address listed on your Medicare card. You can click here to make sure your details are up-to-date. Usually, you will get your invitation on or around your birthday, but it can arrive up to six months later.   

Hot weather can affect the accuracy of bowel cancer screening tests, so if you live in an area where it gets very hot, you will be sent an invitation during the colder months of the year. It is important that you complete and return your test as soon as you can. 

If you don’t complete your test, you will be invited again around your birthday two years later. If you have not received a kit, or yours is damaged, lost or expired you can ask for another test by clicking the button below.

What do my test results mean?

If your test results are positive, this means there is blood in your sample. About one in 14 people will have a positive FOBT result. A positive test result doesn’t mean that you have bowel cancer – it means you need to do more tests to check for bowel cancer.   

Bleeding may be caused by several conditions, including polyps, haemorrhoids or inflammation, and may not mean you have cancer.   

Blood in your poo does need to be investigated to make sure you’re healthy. If your test result is positive, contact a GP to discuss your results and if you need more tests.  

A negative test result means there is no blood in your poo samples.  This doesn’t mean that you do not have or won't get bowel cancer in the future. If you have a negative result, you still need to test again in two years.  

If you’re confused, worried or have more questions, speak to a GP.