Knowing your bowel cancer risk could save your life

Wednesday 31 July, 2013
  • Simple online calculator predicts risk of bowel cancer
  • New campaign to encourage over 50s to screen for bowel cancer
  • Only one third of Victorians take advantage of free screening program

Cancer Council is encouraging Victorians of all ages to use a simple online calculator to assess their personal risk of bowel cancer, and urging those 50 and over to do a simple at-home screening test.

"The risk of bowel cancer increases significantly for everyone once they are 50, which is why Cancer Council recommends screening using a faecal occult blood test (FOBT) every two years from this age. However, some people have a greater risk of bowel cancer and may benefit from earlier or increased screening.

"Cancer Council's simple online calculator can help people work out if their family history, or indeed their lifestyle, is putting them at increased risk of bowel cancer, and provides advice on what they can do about it," said Cancer Council Victoria's Manager of Screening Programs, Lea Rawlings.

Cancer Council's bowel cancer calculator was developed in partnership with experts from the Royal Melbourne Hospital. It asks a series of questions about age, family history of bowel cancer and lifestyle, and produces a personalised risk summary which people can print out to discuss with their doctor. The summary includes recommendations for reducing bowel cancer risk and outlines what screening may be appropriate.

"We encourage all Victorians to use this simple online calculator to discover their personal risk of bowel cancer. Knowing what lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk, or whether your family history means you require additional or earlier screening, puts you one step ahead of Australia's second biggest cancer killer," said Ms Rawlings.

This month Cancer Council Victoria launched a campaign to encourage all Victorians 50 and over to screen for bowel cancer. The campaign was timed to coincide with the addition of 60,000 Victorian 60 year olds to the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. Now all Australians turning 50, 55, 60 and 65 will receive a free FOBT in the mail.

Ms Rawlings said recent figures showing just one third of Victorians (36%) were taking advantage of the program were very disappointing and that people were risking their lives by not screening.

"It's very worrying that the majority of Victorians aged 50 and over are not doing this simple, life-saving test. Perhaps it's because they feel healthy or do not understand what the test involves, or they may simply believe bower cancer won't happen to them. The fact is, if you are 50 or over, you are at higher risk of bowel cancer.

"Screening for bowel cancer is incredibly important because it often develops without symptoms. Bowel cancer is Australia's second biggest cancer killer but if found early 90% of cases can be cured. Doing a simple at-home test, every two years from the age of 50, could help find bowel cancer early and save your life," said Ms Rawlings.

When symptoms do occur they can include bleeding after a bowel motion, a change in bowel habits, unexplained tiredness, lower abdominal pain or a persistent feeling of fullness. Ms Rawlings urged anyone with symptoms, regardless of age, lifestyle or family history, to see their doctor immediately.

Further information:

Those who have one or more of the following symptoms are advised to see their doctor immediately:

  • bleeding from the back passage or blood after a bowel motion, 
  • a persistent or unexpected change in bowel habits, 
  • unexplained tiredness, 
  • lower abdominal pain or a persistent feeling of fullness.

Cancer Council recommends screening for bowel cancer using a faecal occult blood test (FOBT) every two years from the age of 50.

All Australians aged 50, 55, 60 and 65 in 2013 will be sent a free faecal occult blood test (FOBT) as part of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP).

Cancer Council advises those over 50 who are not currently eligible for the NBCSP to speak to their doctor about screening using an FOBT.

Those over 50 and not yet eligible for the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program can order an FOBT online at or by calling Cancer Council on 13 11 20. FOBTs are $32.50. Some pharmacies also sell FOBTs and they may be available through some health care funds.

Bowel cancer facts:

  • Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in Australia and claims the lives of more than 70 Australian men and women each week
  • More than 4,000 men and women are diagnosed with bowel cancer in Australia every year - this number is steadily growing. 
  • 90% of bowel cancers can be cured if caught early enough.