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Bowel Screening

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) aims to help detect bowel cancer early and reduce the number of Australians who die each year from the disease.

While bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting men and women, it is one of the most treatable cancers if found early.

Eligible people are sent a bowel cancer screening kit by mail containing a Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT). A Faecal Occult Blood Test is a test which can detect small amount of blood in bowel motions. The test is done in the privacy of your own home and involves collecting small samples of your bowel motion. The samples are then sent to a laboratory for analysis.

If the FOBT is positive (ie. blood is found), further tests, usually a colonoscopy, will be needed to find out the cause of the bleeding.

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How to access this service

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program invites eligible people aged between 50 &74 to screen for bowel cancer every two years.  Participants are sent a free, easy to use test kit to complete at home.

The Australian Government will send a screening invitation, free screening test kit and other program information through the post around the time of your eligible birthday.

Requesting a replacement kit

If you lose your kit or it expires you can:

  • call the National Cancer Screening Register to ask for a replacement
  • submit a request on their website.

Bowel cancer risk factors

Everyone is at risk of bowel cancer. The risk is greater however if you:

  • Are aged 50 years and over
  • Are overweight
  • Have a poor diet, such as a diet high in red meats, processed meats (e.g. bacon, sausages), fried foods, alcohol, or low in vegetables, fruit and whole grains (e.g. wholemeal bread, brown rice)
  • Have had an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Have previously had non-cancerous tumours in the bowel
  • Have a strong family history of bowel cancer or polyps

You are considered to have a strong family history of bowel cancer if a close relative (parent, brother, sister or child) developed bowel cancer at a young age (under 55 years), if more than one close relative in your family has had bowel cancer at any age, or if one close relative and at least two second-degree relatives (grandparent, aunty, uncle, niece or nephew) had bowel cancer at any age.

More than 80 per cent of people who develop bowel cancer do not have a family history of bowel cancer.

If you think you have a strong family history of bowel cancer, talk to your doctor about your risk of getting the disease and what testing is right for you.

You can lower your risk of developing bowel cancer by having a healthy diet, exercising regularly, reducing your alcohol consumption and quitting smoking. More information can be found on the Cancer Council website.

More information about maintaining a healthy diet can be found on the Eat For Health Website.

Symptoms of bowel cancer

Bowel cancer can develop with few, if any, early warning symptoms. Symptoms of bowel cancer include:

  • bleeding from the rectum (back passage), or any sign of blood after a bowel motion
  • a recent and persistent change in bowel habit, for example looser bowel motions, severe constipation and/or needing to go to the toilet more than usual
  • unexplained tiredness (a symptom of anaemia)
  • abdominal pain.

If you have symptoms or are concerned you should talk to your doctor.

Last updated: 17 December 2018


National Bowel Cancer Screening Program

National Bowel Cancer Screening Program Information Line
Phone: 1800 627 701
Call for general questions regarding the NBCSP or to order replacement Faecal Occult Blood Test kit.

Faecal Occult Blood Test Helpline
Phone: 1800 930 998
Call for information about how to do the test kit.

CQ Health Bowel Screen
Education and Program Officer

Phone: (07) 4920 5748