Bowel cancer is a serious and prevalent disease in Australia, with around 80 people dying every week from this disease. The risk of developing bowel cancer rises sharply after the age of 50. The Australian Government has a program now available that offers free testing to eligible people.
The bowel is a part of the digestive system that connects the stomach to the anus. The role of this vital organ is to complete the digestion process by absorbing nutrients and water. Bowel cancer usually affects the large bowel, which is the colon and the rectum, while cancers of the small bowel are rare.
Bowel cancer can be successfully treated only if it is detected early. However, currently only 40% of bowel cancers are detected early enough.
Symptoms include rectal bleeding, persistent changes in bowel habits, unexplained tiredness or weight loss and abdominal pain. Higher risk groups are those who are over the age of 50, those who have a family history of bowel cancer and those who have had an inflammatory bowel disease.
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (‘the Program’) provides free testing for eligible people. The Program is now in the process of being rolled out; when fully implemented, every Australian between 50 and 74 will be able to access free screening once every two years.
Currently any Australian (permanent residents or citizens with a Medicare card or DVA card) turning 50, 55, 60, or 65 is invited for a free screen. The test usually involves a Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT).
In the event the FOBT is positive, the patient should contact their doctor for further information.(Please note this is not considered a pre-existing condition with CBHS). The doctor might recommend a further test, such as a colonoscopy, to determine the cause of the bleeding. If there is bowel cancer, treatment options might include radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery.