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Bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is also known as colorectal cancer.

The bowel is 4.5 – 6.5 metres long and cancer may involve any section of that length.

Bowel cancer has up to a 90% success rate of a cure if diagnosed early.  Bowel screening has significantly improved the chances of a full recovery from an early diagnosis of bowel cancer.

Have I got any signs of bowel cancer?

Not all bowel cancers show symptoms. Experiencing symptoms does not necessarily mean you have bowel cancer. However, you should see your doctor if you notice:

  • bleeding from the back passage or any sign of blood after a bowel motion
  • a change in usual bowel habit, such as straining (constipation) to go to the toilet or loose motions (diarrhoea)
  • abdominal pain or bloating
  • weight loss for no obvious reason, or loss of appetite
  • symptoms of anaemia, including unexplained tiredness, weakness or breathlessness.

Am I at risk of bowel cancer?

Everyone is at risk of developing bowel cancer, the risk greatly increases with age, particularly from age 50. You are also at greater risk if you have:

  • a previous history of polyps in the bowel
  • a previous history of bowel cancer
  • chronic inflammatory bowel disease (e.g. Crohn's disease)
  • a strong family history of bowel cancer
  • increased insulin levels or type 2 diabetes.

How will I get tested?

The National Bowel Screening Program is offered free to all Australians aged 50-74 every two years. Find out more about bowel screening.

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.

The new kit should arrive 4 to 10 weeks after your request.

What happens next

If you have a positive test result, you should see your GP to find out what’s causing the bleeding. Your GP will probably refer you to a specialist to have a procedure called a colonoscopy.

For more details, read the colonoscopy information brochure. You will also get this brochure in the mail if you have a positive test result.

For more on what you can expect before, during and after a colonoscopy, see colonoscopy: what you need to know.

Last updated: 16 September 2021