Bowel screening

Screening for bowel cancer can save lives by finding bowel cancer early when it is easier to treat and cure. Screening can also find polyps (growths) in the bowel which can be removed before they develop into cancer.

National Bowel Cancer Screening Program

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program provides free screening for men and women turning 50, 55, 60 or 65 years of age who hold a Medicare card or Department of Veterans’ Affairs card.  Other age groups will be added as follows:

  • 2015: 70 and 74 year olds
  • 2016: 72 and 64 year olds
  • 2017: 68, 58 and 54 year olds.

The four remaining age groups 52, 56, 62 and 66 year olds, will be included from 2018 to 2020.

If you are not eligible under the national program, it does not mean you cannot be screened. Contact your usual General Practitioner (GP) or general practice to discuss your screening options.  Your usual GP or general practice can request a Faecal Occult Blood Test, which is eligible for a Medicare benefit.  Most pathology practices bulk bill for this test, which means that there will be no out of pocket cost to you.

Taking the test…

The Faecal Occult Blood Test is quick, easy and doesn’t hurt. It involves collecting small amounts of your faeces or bowel motions and sending them to a pathology laboratory where they are tested for small amounts of blood.

You can do the test provided by the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program yourself at home in privacy and mail (free of charge) the two samples of your faeces (bowel motions) to the program’s laboratory for analysis.  The results will be sent to you by mail and with your agreement to your usual GP or general practice.  If your usual GP or general practice has given you a test kit, you would return the completed kit to your general practice or to a collection centre of the pathology practice.

To hear about participating in the program, watch ‘Frankie’s story’, a video produced by Cancer Council SA.

Test results explained

A negative test result means no blood has been found and further tests are not needed at this time. However, a negative result does not guarantee that cancer is not present or that it won’t develop in the future.

A positive test result indicates blood has been found in the faeces (bowel motions) and means follow-up tests, such as a colonoscopy, are needed to find the cause of the bleeding. In many cases, these further tests find no abnormality or only non-cancerous conditions such as haemorrhoids (piles).  Occasionally a polyp or small cancer is found that can be treated successfully.  It is important to make an appointment and discuss these results with your usual GP or general practice. For more information, refer to the I’ve received a positive test result flyer (PDF 121KB).

Reminder service

As part of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, a register has been developed to assist participants through the screening pathway.  Written reminders are automatically sent to people who have not attended the necessary follow-up after a positive Faecal Occult Blood Test result. In addition to this, SA Health Participant Follow-up Officers contact South Australian participants with a positive result who do not appear to have attended their GP or colonoscopist to encourage participants to see their doctor and have appropriate diagnostic tests.

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