Bowel Cancer Screening

About the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program

Bowel cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in Australia, and around 80 Australians die each week from the disease. Bowel cancer can be treated successfully if detected in its early stages, but currently fewer than 40 per cent of bowel cancers are detected early.

People eligible to participate in the program will receive an invitation through the mail to complete a simple test called a faecal occult blood test (FOBT) in the privacy of their own home and mail it to a pathology laboratory for analysis. There is no cost involved in completing the FOBT. These screening tests have been shown in overseas clinical trials and in the Bowel Cancer Screening Pilot Program to be simple to use and highly effective. Participants with a positive FOBT result will be advised to discuss the result with their doctor, who will generally refer them for further investigations, usually a colonoscopy.

Who will be invited to take part in the program?

People who are within the eligible population will be invited to take part in the program. The eligible population is Australians turning 50, 55 or 65 years of age between January 2011 and December 2014, who hold a Medicare card or DVA gold card.

Temporary visa holders and temporary residents will not be invited to participate in the program regardless of whether they are in the specified age range.

Why are only people turning 50, 55 or 65 years of age being invited to take part?

Research shows that the risk of developing bowel cancer rises significantly from the age of 50. The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that organised FOBT screening of average risk people should commence at 50 years of age.

It is important that the screening program be introduced slowly to provide time to ensure that health services, such as colonoscopy services, are able to meet any increased demand. That is why only those turning 50, 55 or 65 years of age between January 2011 and December 2014 are currently being invited to screen.

How are people identified as eligible to be invited to participate in the program?

The names and addresses of people turning 50, 55 or 65 years of age between January 2011 and December 2014 have been obtained from Medicare enrolment records or Department of Veterans’ Affairs enrolment records as authorised by a service arrangement under subsection 7(2) of the Medicare Australia Act 1973.

When will invitations be sent to participate in the program?

If a person is eligible, a pre-invitation letter followed by an invitation package, including an FOBT kit, will be sent by mail between July 2011 and June 2015.

Why do eligible people who don’t have any symptoms need to participate in screening?

Screening involves testing for bowel cancer in people who do not have any obvious symptoms of the disease. The aim is to find cancer or pre-cancer early when it is easier to treat.

Screening is important because bowel cancer can develop without any early warning symptoms. Bowel cancer can be treated successfully if detected in its early stages.

Doing an FOBT every two years, can reduce the risk of dying from bowel cancer by up to one third.

Where can I go to get an FOBT if I am not eligible to participate in the program?

There are two main types of FOBT – immunochemical tests and traditional chemical (guaiac) tests.

The immunochemical FOBT has been selected as the preferred testing method for the program, in contrast to the guaiac FOBT, as it has no restrictions on diet or medication.

The type of immunochemical FOBT being used in the program is called ‘Detectâ„¢’ (Siemens Medical), but is not available for purchase by the public.

Guaiac FOBTs require a person not to consume red meat, specific fruit and vegetables (for example, raw broccoli,) vitamin C supplements, aspirin or anti-inflammatory drugs for three days prior to taking the first test sample and throughout the testing period.

You can speak with your doctor or pharmacist about purchasing an FOBT.

For more information regarding screening for bowel cancer, speak to your doctor or call the Cancer Helpline on 13 11 20.

Don’t forget to recommend LDS for your bowel cancer screening.