Frequently asked questions

Some frequently asked questions about bowel screening.

Page last updated: 12 August 2016

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

Population screening programs should offer more benefit than harm to the target population. In Australia, screening in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is offered to eligible people aged between 50 and 74. This is consistent with other international bowel cancer screening programs.

The upper age limit of 74 years is based on consideration of relative risk of bowel cancer in people over 74 years of age who are asymptomatic, and the risk to these individuals associated with screening – particularly from follow-up diagnostic procedures (colonoscopy). Serious complications from colonoscopy are uncommon. Perforation of the bowel is, however, one of the potential serious complications, and the risk appears to be increased in the elderly.

Despite the increasing incidence of bowel cancer with age, the benefits gained from screening in persons aged 75 to 85 who have been previously screened appear to be small compared to the risks.

It is recognised that people’s medical and health circumstances vary and there are individuals over the age of 74 in excellent health whose risk of an adverse event from colonoscopy is reduced compared to others in the same age. People aged 75 years or older should talk to their GP about their need for future screening.

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.

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