Frequently asked questions

Some frequently asked questions about bowel screening.

Page last updated: 08 April 2020

COVID-19 frequently asked questions

Some frequently asked questions about how COVID-19 is affecting bowel-cancer screening.

If you have received a positive test result from your bowel cancer screening test, it is important that you seek advice from your GP on whether you require a follow-up test or further investigation. If you have any concerns about bowel cancer or if you have symptoms, contact your GP or specialist promptly.

Will I still receive letters or a bowel test kit in the mail?

Yes. All invitations, test kits and reminder correspondence will continue to be sent out, and you should receive them as long as the mail is being delivered in your area.

I have a test kit at home. Should I still do the test? 

Yes you should still do the test. Your test samples will continue to be processed by pathology labs and your result will be mailed to you.

Should I still do my test kit if I am confirmed to be infected with or display symptoms of COVID-19?

You should call your GP to discuss your circumstances. Once you’ve been given the OK to leave your home, you may complete your test kit and drop it in the post using the reply-paid envelope.

I received a positive screening test result letter. Do I need to follow it up with my GP? 

If you have received a positive screening test result, it requires further investigation and you should seek advice from your GP on whether you should complete a follow-up test, including whether you require referral for a colonoscopy.

How should I contact my GP, specialist or colonoscopy provider?

You should seek initial advice by phone. Many healthcare providers offer bulk-billing consultations for telehealth services. This allows you to speak with your healthcare provider over the phone about your screening and health needs. Check with your doctor to see if they offer that service.

What are telehealth services?

Temporary MBS and phone consultation items were introduced on 13 March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Telehealth allows doctors to deliver services via videoconference and phone to patients. It helps reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19. It is only available for services that can be bulk-billed.

Should I still visit my GP if I have a respiratory infection or possible COVID-19 symptoms?

If you have any signs of a respiratory infection or suspected COVID-19 symptoms, you should phone your GP or clinic to seek advice. Again, you may be able to use telehealth services.

If I need a colonoscopy, will this procedure go ahead?

At the moment there may be some delay to colonoscopy services in different areas of the country. If you already have a procedure booked, contact your healthcare provider or specialist for advice. If you have not booked a colonoscopy but have been referred to a specialist, call them to seek further advice on the situation and find out about their colonoscopy waiting list.

Will the changes to elective surgery announced by the Prime Minister in March affect my colonoscopy procedure?

Contact your specialist, hospital or clinic to seek advice about your specific situation.

Am I at risk of getting bowel cancer if my follow-up is delayed following a positive screening result?

Cancer and clinical experts advise that a short delay in routine cancer screening of people without symptoms is likely to be very low risk, given most cancers are slow growing. The majority of positive screening tests are not indicative of bowel cancer. Nonetheless, if you have received a positive screening test result, you are strongly encouraged to seek medical advice from your GP about whether you need a follow-up test or further investigations.

If you are awaiting a colonoscopy or any other follow-up investigation, and you experience any new symptoms, don’t delay contacting your GP or specialist to discuss your circumstances.

If I have questions about the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, where can I get advice?

If you have questions about the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, contact the National Cancer Screening Register Contact Centre on 1800 627 701. Alternatively, you can contact the Register via the online form on the NCSR website.

Will I still receive a screening test kit during the COVID-19 pandemic?

If you were expecting a kit and it has not arrived, or if your current kit has expired, you can request a replacement kit by calling the National Cancer Screening Register Contact Centre on 1800 627 701.

General frequently asked questions

I’m under 50 years of age. Why aren’t I invited by the Program?

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (Program) invites eligible people aged 50 to 74 years to complete a free screening test, a similar age range to other international bowel cancer screening programs. The targeting of the Program was developed after consideration of the effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and the overall balance of benefits to risk of harm associated with screening.

The lower age of 50 years is based on evidence on the harms and benefits of population screening and is in keeping with the recommendations of the National Health and Medical Research Council approved Clinical Guidelines for the Prevention, Early Detection and Management of Colorectal Cancer. The guidelines were updated in 2017 taking into account the latest evidence. While bowel cancer occurs in younger age groups, over 90% of people diagnosed with bowel cancer are 50 years or older. Screening large populations of younger people would result in a high number of people needing follow up procedures, yet with a very low likelihood of having cancer.

Individuals under 50 years of age who have concerns about bowel cancer, a family history or symptoms are encouraged to speak with their doctor about their individual circumstances and what testing they require.

I’m over 74. Why can’t I participate in the Program?

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (Program) invites eligible people aged 50 to 74 years to complete a free screening test, a similar age range to other international bowel cancer screening programs. The targeting of the Program was developed after consideration of the effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and the overall balance of benefits to risk of harm associated with screening.

The upper age of 74 years is based on current evidence on the harms and benefits of population screening and is in keeping with the recommendations of the National Health and Medical Research Council approved Clinical Guidelines for the Prevention, Early Detection and Management of Colorectal Cancer.

Individuals over the age of 74 are at greater risks from the follow-up procedures used for bowel cancer screening and are encouraged to speak with their doctor about screening options based on their individual circumstances.

Does the program call people to offer free screening kits, sell promotional items or request donations?

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program does not call people to offer free screening kits, sell promotional items or request donations. The program does not share personal details of participants with telemarketers. You can be assured that your personal information kept on the Program Register is protected by the Privacy Act 1988 and your personal details will be handled in accordance with the Information Privacy Principles set out within that Act.

Are there any restrictions on when samples can be collected?

Yes. Samples cannot be collected if:

  • it is during or within three days either side of a menstrual period
  • you have haemorrhoids (piles) that are bleeding
  • blood is present in the urine or visible in the toilet bowl – if this is the  case contact your doctor.

It is not necessary to change your diet or avoid taking medications before the sample collection.

If you have symptoms such as a persistent change in bowel habit, pain in your abdomen, bleeding from the back passage, tiredness or weight loss, or if you are worried about your bowel health in any way, then you should not wait for screening, but contact your doctor.

If I have an existing bowel condition, should I still participate in the program?

You should talk to your doctor about whether to complete the screening test if you:

  • have had a bowel condition in the last 12 months which is currently under treatment
  • have recently had a colonoscopy
  • are scheduled for a colonoscopy in the next few weeks.

It may not be necessary for you to do the screening test. If this is the case you can opt out of the program.

I have had bowel surgery. Do I need to continue with bowel screening?

Screening checks the health of your colon. If you have a functioning colon you should continue with bowel screening. People with no functioning colon do not need to be screened.

How can I get a bowel screening kit if I am not eligible for the program?

If you are not eligible to be invited through the program you can speak with your doctor or pharmacist about how to obtain a screening kit.

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

What are the risk factors for bowel cancer?

There are a number of ways to help reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer, including:

  • having a healthy diet
  • giving up smoking
  • drinking alcohol in moderation
  • exercising.

Unfortunately there are other risks that we cannot influence, such as:

  • a family history of cancer
  • increased age
  • a history of polyps or inflammatory bowel disease (such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis).

Anyone, including younger people, with concerns about their risk of developing bowel cancer should talk to their doctor.

What is the implication of ‘My Health Record’ to the National Bowel Cancer Screening results?

Following the end of the opt out period for the My Health Record, when you do the test your result will be sent to your My Health Record, unless you indicate on your Participant Details form that you do not want this to happen. People can handwrite ‘Do not send reports to My Health Record’ on their existing Participant Details form noting that new forms issued after the opt out period has ended will have a tick box option for people to indicate their preference.

If your result is sent to the My Health Record and you want it removed you can do this by:

  1. Logging into your My Health Record and removing your result; or
  2. Contacting the My Health Record Help line which is available 24/7 on 1800 723 471.

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