Bowel cancer screening and prevention

Bowel cancer is a major cause of cancer related death for both men and women with around 100 Australians dying from the disease every week. The good news is, if detected early up to 90% of cases can be successfully treated.

Bowel cancer develops in the wall or lining of the bowel.  It begins when cells grow too quickly, forming a clump known as a polyp or adenoma.  Most are benign (non-cancerous), but some can become cancerous. If left untreated, the cancer can spread to other areas of the body.

The best way to reduce your risk of bowel cancer is to:

National Bowel Cancer Screening Program

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is a Commonwealth Government initiative that posts a free test kit to eligible men and women aged 50-74 years to test for early signs of bowel cancer. By 2020, all eligible Australians aged between 50 and 74 years will be invited to screen every two years. This could save up to 500 lives annually, and significantly reduce the burden of bowel cancer on Australians and their families.

You will be invited using information from either Medicare or Department of Veterans’ Affairs enrolment records.

Find out when you will receive your free test kit.

If you have a family history of bowel cancer or are experiencing any of the following symptoms, talk to your doctor.

  • bleeding from the rectum (back passage), or any sign of blood after a bowel motion
  • a recent and persistent change in bowel habit, for example looser bowel motions, severe constipation and/or needing to go to the toilet more than usual
  • unexplained tiredness (a symptom of anaemia)
  • abdominal pain.

Doing the test

You will receive a free bowel cancer screening kit by mail containing a Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT).

The test is quick and easy and involves taking a small sample from 2 bowel motions, in the privacy of your own home. You send the samples back to the laboratory for testing, in the reply paid envelope provided.

Watch this short video to learn how easy taking the test can be.

Test results:

You will receive your results in the mail. If your test is:

  • positive (blood is found in the bowel motion): you should see your doctor as soon as possible to talk about the results and any further tests that may be needed.
  • negative (no blood is found in the bowel motion): no further investigation is needed at this time, however this does not mean that you do not have or can never develop bowel cancer, this is why it is important to screen again in two years when you are next invited and talk to your doctor if you experience symptoms.

Help and advice

Call the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program Information Line on 1800 118 868 for general questions regarding the Program or to order a replacement FOBT kit.

Call the Test Kit Helpline on 1800 930 998 for information about using the FOBT kit.

Read frequently asked questions about the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.