Bowel Cancer Screening. A gift for living

Brochure on bowel cancer, screening and the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program

Page last updated: 30 May 2016

PDF version: Bowel Cancer Screening. A gift for living (PDF 359 KB)

About bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer related deaths in Australia. Around 80 Australians die from the disease every week.

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

If caught early, up to 90% of bowel cancers can be successfully treated.

Risks and symptoms

The risk of bowel cancer increases with age and if you’re over 50 this risk increases significantly.

Other risk factors for bowel cancer include family history, smoking, excess alcohol intake, lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet.

Having any of the symptoms below does not mean that you have bowel cancer. It’s important that you talk to your GP.

Typical symptoms may include:

  • A change in bowel habits such as diarrhoea or constipation
  • A change in the appearance of bowel movements
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Blood in the stools or on the toilet paper

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, which was introduced in 2006, is saving lives every day.

Eligible people are mailed a free bowel cancer screening test to complete at home. The program is expanding and by 2020, all Australians aged between 50 and 74 will be offered free screening every two years.

Eligible age cohorts will be added in stages with kits being sent to more people each year:

    YearEligible ages
    201650, 55, 60, 64, 65, 70, 72, 74
    201750, 54, 55, 58, 60, 64, 68, 70, 72, 74
    201850, 54, 58, 60, 62, 64, 66, 68, 70, 72, 74
    2019 onwards50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62, 64, 66, 68, 70, 72,74

    This means about 4 million Australians will be invited to screen each year by 2020.

    Why bowel screening works

    Bowel cancer screening saves lives because it’s the best way to detect bowel cancer early. It can even detect bowel cancer before symptoms appear.

    Early diagnosis improves treatment options and chances of survival. Regular screening can reduce deaths from bowel cancer by 15-25% and prevent between 300-500 deaths each year.

    It’s free, simple and can be done in your own home. So when you receive your kit, it’s important that you complete and return it.

    Call 1800 118 868
    www.cancerscreening.gov.au/bowel

    If you need help in your language, please call the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) 131 450
    All information in this brochure is correct as at May 2016

    All information in this brochure is correct as at May 2016