That bowel cancer screening “invitation” kit your parent got in the mail to isn’t junk mail. Don’t throw it out! It could save their life.
If your parents (or you) were born in 1969, 1967, 1965, 1963, 1961, 1959, 1957, 1955, 1953, 1951, 1949, 1947, 1945, their lives could be saved this year as they should be receiving a free bowel cancer screening kit in the mail. The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) aims to test those aged between 50-74 every two years to help with early detection of bowel cancer – the second most common causes of cancer deaths in Australia.
Currently around 80 die from bowel cancer in Australia each week, but if caught early enough, 90 per cent of cases can be successfully treated. The Cancer Council and Australian Government Health websites have some great information on bowel cancer and the bowel cancer screening programme. We’ve included some highlights below.
About bowel cancer
When cells in the lining of the bowel grow too quickly, growths can form called polyps or adenomas. These growths are often benign, but can develop into bowel cancer over several years.
Symptoms of bowel cancer include:
- signs of blood after a bowel motion
- changes in bowel habits, for example, needing to go to the toilet more often than usual, severe constipation or constant diarrhoea
- pain in the abdomen
- extreme tiredness
Risks of bowel cancer
Age is a risk factor for bowel cancer with those over 50 years old being at risk. Other risk factors include:
- a family history of bowel cancer (although it’s not a prerequisite. More than 75 per cent of those diagnosed with bowel cancer do not have a family history of it)
- a family history of polyps
- personal history of bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- adenomas in the bowel
Your parent can reduce the risk of bowel cancer by:
- having a healthy diet
- exercising regularly
- reducing alcohol consumption
- quitting smoking
The test that comes in the mail is called a Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT). An FOBT does not diagnose cancer on its own but looks for signs of polyps, cancer or other blood conditions which usually comes in the form of microscopic traces of blood in stools. If the FOBT is positive, a doctor will conduct other more comprehensive tests such as a colonoscopy.
Your parent will need to collect two stool samples (yes we mean poo) and post them using the reply paid envelope as soon as possible. While it sounds a bit gross, the kit comes with comprehensive instructions to make it as quick and clean as possible.
The free screening program is estimated to prevent 59,000 deaths between 2015 and 2040. So if your ageing parent, or someone you know is aged 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62, 64, 66, 68, 70, 72 and 74 this year, encourage them to complete the National Bowel Cancer Screening Test when it comes in the mail. It could save their life.
Some additional useful resources:
Cancer Council website on preventing bowel cancer – http://www.cancercouncil.com.au/bowel-cancer/prevent-bowel-cancer/
National Bowel Cancer Screening Program website – http://www.cancerscreening.gov.au/internet/screening/publishing.nsf/Content/bowel-screening-1
National Bowel Cancer Screening useful links – http://www.cancerscreening.gov.au/internet/screening/publishing.nsf/Content/useful-links
Video on how to use the National Bowel Cancer Screening Kit – http://www.cancerscreening.gov.au/internet/screening/publishing.nsf/Content/bowel-campaign-pr-video#use