Early detection and cancer prevention

Bowel screening

If you are over 50 years old you can have a free bowel test through the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.

The program aims to reduce illness and death from bowel cancer through regular screening to help with early detection.

It is currently inviting men and women turning 50, 55, 60, 64, 65, 70, 72 and 74 to screen for bowel cancer. You will be sent a free, easy to use screening kit that can be completed at home.

Between 2015 and 2020, more age groups will be added to the screening program, including:

  • 2017 - 68, 58 and 54 year-olds
  • 2018 - 62 and 66 year-olds.

People aged 52 and 56 will be included from 2019 to 2020.

By 2020, about four million Australians will be invited to screen each year, which could save up to 500 lives each year and reduce the effects of bowel cancer on Australians.

About the test

The test, called the faecal occult blood test, can pick up early signs of bowel cancer

It is done in the privacy of your own home and involves taking two to three samples of separate bowel motions (faeces) using a test kit.

The test looks for small amounts of blood that are invisible to the naked eye.

Your results

If blood is detected, your result is positive. About one in 13 people will have a positive result. 

This may be due to conditions other than cancer, such as polyps, haemorrhoids or inflammation of the bowel, and the cause of bleeding needs to be investigated.

If your result is positive you will be asked to contact your doctor, who may recommend further tests, usually a colonoscopy, to find the cause of bleeding.

Getting the test

You will receive an invitation to take part in the program. Your name is drawn from either the Medicare or Department of Veterans' Affairs enrolment records. Check when you will receive your screening kit on the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program website.

You can also ask your General Practitioner (GP) for a test kit.

The screening kit includes an instruction sheet that guides you through the process. 

For help with the instructions contact the test helpline on 1800 738 365.

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Last updated: 12 May 2016

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