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70 and 74-year-olds added to National Bowel Cancer Screening Program

Thursday 5 February, 2015

From this year, 70 and 74-year-olds will receive at-home bowel cancer screening kits as the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program continues to widen screening to include additional age groups.

The risk of bowel cancer increases with age from 50 and is asymptomatic in its early stages. Bowel cancer is the most common cancer affecting both men and women but has a very high cure rate if found early.

Approximately 80 Australians die each week from bowel cancer.*

Minister for Health Jill Hennessy encourages Victorians to participate in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.

"Early detection can be key to surviving cancer and I encourage everyone who receives the free kit to complete the test."

"It's simple, it can be done in the privacy of your own home, and it's so important. It could save your life."

The faecal occult blood test (FOBT) looks for the early signs of bowel cancer and involves taking a minuscule sample from two separate bowel motions using a test kit. Samples are then sent to a laboratory for testing. Participants with positive results are advised to discuss their result with their doctor and undergo further testing.

Cancer Council Victoria Screening Manager Kate Broun said that while currently the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is restricted to certain age groups, the Cancer Council recommends more frequent screening.

"Cancer Council Victoria is invested in not only making 70 and 74 year-olds aware of the program's extension and its significance, but also in reminding all Australians between the ages of 50 and 74 that they should be screening for bowel cancer every two years. Research** shows that biennial screening can save up to 500 lives a year and will take pressure off the health system."

FOBTs are designed for women and men aged 50 and over without symptoms or a strong family history of bowel cancer. Those with a strong family history of bowel cancer or any symptoms should see a doctor. FOBTs can be purchased from the Cancer Council online or by calling 13 11 20.

Frank Clarke, 77, of Vermont South says he has the FOBT kit to thank for the early detection of his bowel cancer in 2007.

"I had absolutely no symptoms when I was diagnosed and I was lucky the kit picked up my cancer early. I got the ‘all clear' from my specialist in August and now the only reminder I have of my battle with bowel cancer is my abdominal scar.

"I plead to my fellow Australians to do the bowel screening test before it's too late," Mr Clarke said.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program began in 2006 and has been progressively expanding the age groups invited to participate. With the addition of 70 and 74 year olds in 2015, the age groups currently invited to participate are people aged 50, 55, 60, 65, 70 and 74. By 2020, all Australians aged 50 to 74 will be invited to participate every two years.


*Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare & Australasian Association of Cancer Registries 2012. Cancer in Australia - an overview 2012. Cancer series no. 74 Cat. No. CAN 70. Canberra: AIHW
**Source: Pignone P.P, Flitcroft K.L et al: Costs and cost-effectiveness of full implementation of a biennial faecal occult blood test screening program for bowel cancer in Australia. MJA 2011.