What is Bowel Cancer?
Bowel cancer refers to cancer of the large intestine. It is one of the most common forms of cancer, and causes almost 10% of deaths from cancer in Australia. It is slightly more common in males and becomes more common as you get older. It can also be more common in people who are overweight, eat a diet which is high in red meat and low in fibre, and people who have family members affected by bowel cancer.
While Bowel Cancer can be fatal, it is a slow-growing disease and it can grow for a long time before there are any symptoms. This is important because if it is discovered early (before any symptoms occur), it is easier to treat and potentially cure. This is why screening for bowel cancer is so important.
Who Should Be Screened for Bowel Cancer?
Screening is recommended for everyone who is between the ages of 50 to 74 who does not have any symptoms. It is recommended to do the test every two years. If you have many family members who have had bowel cancer, you may need to start screening earlier than 50, this is something you should talk to your doctor about.
What does the Screening Test involve?
The screening test is called a Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT). This will be sent to you in a kit when you turn 50, if you do not receive it you can ask your GP for a kit. With this kit you will collect two samples of faeces into the collection jars. The samples will then be tested for blood, as bowel cancer can cause small amounts bleeding in the digestive tract.
What if the test is positive?
It is important to remember that even if the FOBT is positive, this does NOT necessarily mean that you have cancer. From here, your GP will often refer you for a colonoscopy, which will involve a procedure where a doctor will use a camera to look inside your large intestine to see if there is any cancer there.
If the FOBT is negative, no further tests need to be done and as long as you remain symptom-free you will not need to do any more tests for another 2 years.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, feel free to book an appointment with one of our friendly doctors by booking online or contacting us by phone on 8269 6000.
Foreman, L 2009, ‘Bowel cancer screening–a role for general practice’, Aust Fam Physician, vol. 38, no. 4, Apr, pp. 200-203.
Cancer Australia 2018. Bowel cancer statistics | Bowel cancer. [ONLINE] Available at: https://bowel-cancer.canceraustralia.gov.au/statistics. [Accessed 16 March 2018]
National Bowel Cancer Screening Program 2018. Cancer Screening – I’m ready. How do I complete the screening kit? . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/screening/publishing.nsf/Content/completing-the-screening-kit. [Accessed 16 March 2018].
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