Cancer Council urges everyone over 50 to take a seat for Bowel Cancer Awareness Week

Friday 6 June, 2008

It's Bowel Cancer Awareness Week (8-15 June) and the Cancer Council Victoria is calling on all eligible men and women over 50 to screen for bowel cancer as part of the Australian government's expanded National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. Those over 50 who are not eligible for the program are being urged to order a bowel screening kit through the Cancer Council Victoria.

Chair of Cancer Council Australia's National Bowel Cancer Screening Committee, Alison Peipers, said screening for bowel cancer is essential for everyone over 50 because it can develop without any symptoms. Screening involves completing a simple, at-home test called a faecal occult blood test (FOBT), which looks for traces of blood in the bowel motion which could be, but are not always, a sign of bowel cancer.

Australians aged 50, 55 and 65 will receive a free FOBT in the mail, as part of the Australian Government's $87 million budget commitment to bowel cancer screening.

"Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers and the second deadliest form of cancer after lung cancer, claiming more than 80 Australian lives a week. Taking this simple test in the privacy of your home could literally save your life," Ms Peipers said.

"Because regular screening for bowel cancer is essential from the age of 50, Victorians over 50 who are not yet eligible for the national program can purchase an FOBT from our website at, or by calling the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20. An FOBT costs $28, or $20 for pensioners and healthcare card holders."

Ms Peipers said while expansion of the screening program was a positive development, the Government needed to follow through on its commitment to screen all Australians 50 and over, which the Cancer Council believed was feasible within four years.

"The evidence is clear all Australians aged 50 and over should be screened; a fully operational program could prevent more than a third of bowel cancer deaths, saving up to 30 lives a week."

According to Ms Peipers, Bowel Cancer Awareness Week was not only about promoting screening, but also what people could do to reduce their risk of bowel cancer. "We know overweight and obesity increases the risk of bowel cancer, so we are reminding Australians that they can reduce their risk by adopting a healthier lifestyle. Maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, eating well and drinking less alcohol are all things you can do to help reduce your risk of bowel cancer."

People should also be aware of the symptoms of bowel cancer and see their doctor immediately if they notice any of the following:

  • Blood after a bowel motion
  • An unexplained and persistent change in bowel actions. For example, looser or more

frequent bowel motions or becoming severely constipated

  • Unexplained tiredness
  • Lower abdominal pain or a persistent feeling of fullness.

For more information visit

Background information

Who is eligible for the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program?

All Australians turning 50, 55 or 65 between 1 January 2008 and 31 December 2010.

How does the program work?

All Australians eligible for the first phase of The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program will be sent a Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) kit in the mail. The simple test is done at home and mailed to a laboratory for analysis. The test will look for small amounts of blood in the participant's bowel motions, which could be, but is not always, an indication of bowel cancer. People who return a positive FOBT test result will be referred to their GP for further testing.

How can FOBTs be obtained?

To complement the National Program, the Cancer Council Victoria has made it possible for all Victorians over 50 to purchase an FOBT at a cost of $28 ($20 for pensioners and health care card holders) through the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20 or via its website:

FOBTs are also available at selected chemists or via your doctor.

Preventing Bowel Cancer

While screening is effective at detecting early signs of bowel cancer, prevention plays a vital role in tackling onset of the disease.

New Cancer Council research shows a strong link between obesity and cancer. A 20-year Victorian study, involving over 40,000 Victorians, reveals a waistline measurement of over 100cm for men, and 85cm for women, significantly increases the risk of cancer, including bowel cancer.

"People who exceed these measurements should look at implementing lifestyle changes to help reduce their cancer risk," said Professor Hill. "Lifestyle changes such as eating more fresh fruit and vegetables and including exercise in your daily life will help. While early detection is important, taking preventative steps to reduce the risk of bowel cancer is equally important."

For further information about bowel cancer and screening visit the Cancer Council website at: or call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20.

For further information about the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program visit the program website at: or call 1800 118 868.