Australians are very familiar with cancers unfortunately and bowel cancer is the second highest form. It affects more than 14,200 Australians annually and more than 4,000 die every year from it. From age 50, the risk of bowel cancer increases to 1 in 100, making screening and prevention crucial.
The majority of bowel cancer begins as a polyp, which is a benign growth in the colon. From polyp to cancer it generally takes 7-15 years, giving a significant time opportunity for diagnosis and treatment. Fortunately, if caught early, the majority of cancerous polyps are easily removed and little, if any ongoing treatment is required. However if left untreated – or undiagnosed, the consequences can be considerable, with the more extreme being bowel removal or worse, death.
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Programme (NBCSP) uses a test (FOBT) to detect microscopic amounts of blood in the stool, which can be accessed through your doctor/GP, Pharmacist or from the Bowel Cancer Australia Organisation.
Bowel Cancer Australia recommends:
- From age 50: faecal immunochemical test (FIT) every 2 years
- From age 45: (FIT) every 2 years if you have one relative diagnosed with bowel cancer from 55
Some of the common symptoms that bowel cancer can create are:
- Blood in the stool
- Change in bowel habits
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Blood test showing iron deficiency – with or without drop in haemoglobin
- Positive FOBT
Depending on what stage you are at, colonoscopy may be done as a preventative measure to visually inspect the bowel to ensure there are no polyps or cancers. Prevention is always best for any condition, however this is especially the case with bowel cancer as it can be fatal.
In the case where a cancer is diagnosed – or a polyp is found on an initial colonoscopy, removal will be the likely action taken. In the case of more advanced cancers, other treatments may also be required.
Preparing for the procedure
Preparation for a procedure is key, as some preparation can start up to 7 days prior. During your consultation, our specialists will explain what preparations you require for your procedure and also advise you about your medication (if you take any). For full details and downloads, please refer to:
Read more about bowel cancer screening
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Yes, you can. If you’re between the ages of 50-75, you can contact the National Bowel Cancer Screening Register and request them to send you a free bowel cancer test that you can do at home.
The most common way to test for bowel cancer is by getting a colonoscopy, which involves examining the entire length of the large intestine for any suspicious growths and polyps.
Other tests may include:
- Faecal occult blood test (FOTB)
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
- CT colonography
Collect samples of faeces in a clean container over two to three consecutive days and then apply a smear of the faeces on the indicated section of the FOBT card. Let the samples dry then send the card to the lab.
- Red meat
- Vitamin C supplements
- Raw vegetables
It’s recommended that you get this test done at least once every three years or at least once a year if you’re over the age of 50.