Screening for bowel cancer can save lives by finding bowel cancer early when it is easier to treat and cure. Screening can also find polyps (growths) in the bowel which can be removed before they develop into cancer.
National Bowel Cancer Screening Program
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program provides free screening for men and women aged from 50 to 74 years who hold a Medicare card or Department of Veterans’ Affairs card. As part of the phasing in of the Program, the following age groups are being invited to participate:
- 2018: 50, 54, 58, 60, 62, 64, 66, 68, 70, 72 and 74
- 2019: 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62, 64, 66, 68, 70, 72 and 74
By 2020, all eligible Australians aged between 50 and 74 years of age will be invited to screen every two years.
If you are not eligible under the national program, it does not mean you cannot be screened. Contact your usual General Practitioner (GP) or general practice to discuss your screening options. Your usual GP or general practice can request a Faecal Occult Blood Test, which is eligible for a Medicare benefit. Most pathology practices bulk bill for this test, which means that there will be no out of pocket cost to you.
Taking the test
The Faecal Occult Blood Test is quick, easy and doesn’t hurt. It involves collecting small amounts of your faeces or bowel motions and sending them to a pathology laboratory where they are tested for small amounts of blood.
You can do the test provided by the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program yourself at home in privacy and mail (free of charge) the two samples of your faeces (bowel motions) to the program’s laboratory for analysis. The results will be sent to you by mail and, with your agreement, to your usual GP or general practice.
Test results explained
A negative test result means no blood has been found and further tests are not needed at this time. However, a negative result does not guarantee that cancer is not present or that it won’t develop in the future.
A positive test result indicates blood has been found in the faeces (bowel motions) and means follow-up tests, such as a colonoscopy, are needed to find the cause of the bleeding. In many cases, these further tests find no abnormality or only non-cancerous conditions such as haemorrhoids (piles).
Occasionally a polyp or small cancer is found that can be treated successfully. It is important to make an appointment and discuss these results with your usual GP or general practice. For more information about colonoscopy, refer to the colonoscopy brochure (Department of Health website).
As part of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, a register has been developed to assist participants through the screening pathway. Written reminders are automatically sent to people who have not attended the necessary follow-up after a positive Faecal Occult Blood Test result. In addition to this, SA Health Participant Follow-up Officers contact South Australian participants with a positive screening result to encourage them to progress through the screening pathway where they do not appear to have attended their doctor for the necessary follow-up.