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Cancer Council makes life-saving bowel cancer tests available to all Victorians over 50

Tuesday 7 April, 2009

Bowel cancer kills 80 Australians every week. However, if detected early enough, nearly all cases could be cured. That's the message behind Cancer Council Victoria's initiative to make bowel cancer screening accessible to all Victorians over 50.

"More than 1,000 Victorian lives are lost to bowel cancer each year - almost three times the state road toll - yet many lives could be saved through early detection.

"The risk of bowel cancer increases significantly after the age of 50. This is why we're making screening tests easily available to all Victorians over 50 via Cancer Council Victoria website and by calling 9635 5050," said manager of the Cancer Education Programs, Alison Peipers.

Bowel cancer screening tests will be available free to those turning 50, 55 or 65 before 31 December 2010, as part of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.

"Our aim is to complement the government's efforts to reduce bowel cancer-related deaths by making these tests available to all Victorians over 50 who are not yet eligible for the national program," said Ms Peipers.

"The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is the first cancer screening program to target men and women and it has the potential to save more lives than both the established cervical and breast screening programs, combined. We therefore strongly encourage all those eligible to take part in the national program," added Ms Peipers.

Screening is essential because bowel cancer often develops without symptoms. The Cancer Council recommends all men and women over 50 complete a faecal occult blood test (FOBT) every two years, even if they do not have symptoms*. Those with symptoms or a strong family history of bowel cancer are encouraged to see their doctor immediately.

An FOBT is a simple, at-home screening test that looks for traces of blood in the bowel motion, which may be invisible to the naked eye but could be an early sign of bowel cancer. FOBTs are available through the Cancer Council by calling 9635 5050, or online at at a cost of $28, or $20 for pensioners and health care card holders.

Background Information

Bowel Cancer Symptoms

When bowel cancer symptoms are present, they may include:

  • 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.

If you notice any of these symptoms it's important you see your doctor. In most cases their cause will be something other than cancer, but if they are related to bowel cancer, early detection will give you the best chance of cure.

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 this 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) by calling 9635 5050 or via
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 the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program visit the program website at: or call 1800 118 868.

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