If you’re aged between 50 and 74 years, you will receive a free home bowel cancer screening test kit in the mail every two years from the Australian Government as part of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP). This test kit will be sent to the address on your Medicare card.
Bowel cancer screening is designed to check for signs of bowel cancer in people who do not have any obvious symptoms but are at higher risk of bowel cancer because they are in the 50 to 74 age group.
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program uses a faecal occult blood test (FOBT). This is a simple bowel cancer screening test that you can do at home.
When detected early, over 90% of bowel cancers can be successfully treated.
What is the bowel screening test?
The bowel screening test looks for the early signs of bowel cancer. It can be done at home and involves taking a tiny sample from two separate poos using a test kit. The samples are then sent to a laboratory for testing.
The bowel screening test looks for tiny amounts of blood (that often can't be seen by the naked eye) in poo. Blood is usually caused by something less serious than cancer. However, it may be a sign of an early bowel cancer or a polyp: a growth on the inside of the bowel that could develop into cancer. If the bowel screening test finds blood, more tests are done to find out what's caused the bleeding.
If you have lost your kit or it has expired, you can order a replacement kit from the National Cancer Screening Register (NCSR). Call the NCSR on 1800 627 701 or visit the website to order online.
Order your test kit today
Who is eligible for a free bowel screening test?
Australians aged 50 to 74 will be invited to screen every two years and will receive a free test in the mail from the Australian government.
If you're aged under 50 or over 74 and are concerned about your risk of bowel cancer, speak to your doctor.
How do I complete the test?
Your free test kit contains:
The test kit comes with clear instructions, read these before you do the test.
For simplified instructions follow these four steps or watch this video.
Follow these four simple steps
Step 1: Prepare
1. Complete your Participant Details form.
2. Write your details on one of the collection tubes.
3. Leave your test kit in the bathroom so you remember to do the test.
Step 2: Collect
4. Do a wee and flush the toilet, then put the flushable paper toilet liner in the toilet bowl.
5. Poo onto the paper.
6. Open the tube and scrape the tip of the stick into the poo to get a tiny sample. A sample that's smaller than a grain of rice is OK.
7. Put the stick back into the collection tube and click the lid shut. Shake the tube up and down.
Step 3: Store and repeat
8. Place the tube into the ziplock bag and store the sample in the fridge. This is a completely hygienic process because your sample is airtight.
9. Repeat steps 1-3 with the second collection tube when you next do a poo.
Step 4: Send
10. Put your Participant Details form and your two collection tubes (in the sealed ziplock bag) into the reply-paid envelope. Post the envelope within 24 hours if you can.
The free home bowel screening test
Why does the test involve two samples?
Having two samples instead of one increases the chance of any problem being found. This is because some polyps or abnormal growths may only bleed every now and then.
The samples need to be taken from two separate poos. It's best if the samples are completed as close to each other as possible, ideally within 10 days. They should be posted to the laboratory as soon as both samples are completed.
How accurate is the bowel screening test?
Although no screening test is 100 per cent accurate, the at home bowel screening test is very effective at detecting early-stage bowel cancer. If you do the screening test every two years, you can reduce your risk of dying from bowel cancer by up to a third.
Does the bowel screening test have an expiry date?
Yes, each bowel screening test has an expiry date. This can be located on the back of the cardboard envelope. It is important to do the test as soon as possible.
Are there any restrictions on when samples can be collected?
Yes. Do not collect samples if you’ve had:
- haemorrhoids (piles) which are bleeding. If this happens, see your doctor
- blood in your urine, poo or in the toilet bowl. If this happens, see your doctor as soon as you can
- your menstrual period. Wait for at least three days after your period before doing the test
- a recent colonoscopy.
You don’t need to change your diet or avoid taking medications before the sample collection.
How should I store the sample?
Keep the first sample in the fridge until the second sample is taken and you can take it to the post office. Take the envelope to the post office within 24 hours or mail in the late afternoon (before 6pm).
The samples must remain cool, so do not leave them in a hot place, such as a car.
National Bowel Cancer Screening Program
Screening for people with a higher risk of bowel cancer
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is for people without symptoms of bowel cancer. If you have:
- symptoms of bowel cancer – talk to your doctor as soon as you can about having a colonoscopy or other tests
- another bowel condition, such as chronic inflammatory bowel disease – talk to your doctor about appropriate testing
- a strong family history or a genetic condition linked to bowel cancer – talk to your doctor about appropriate testing.
How quickly will I receive the kit after my 50th birthday?
You will receive your free home bowel screening test kit in the mail within the first six months of your birthday. If you have not received your kit, call the National Cancer Screening Register on 1800 627 701.
Why does the screening program target people aged 50 to 74 years?
Screening people aged 50 to 74 provides the greatest health benefit on a whole-of-population basis.
Why isn't the screening program offered to people younger than 50?
Bowel cancer is comparatively rarer in younger age groups. A program that screened large populations of younger people would result in an inappropriately and unsustainably high number of people presenting for clinical investigation, yet with a very low likelihood of having cancer.
If anyone under the age of 50 is concerned about their risk of bowel cancer, if they have symptoms, or a significant family history, they should speak to their doctor.
Why isn't the screening program offered above the age of 74?
The benefits gained from screening people aged 75 years or older who have been previously screened appear to be small compared to the risks associated with screening – particularly from follow-up diagnostic procedures (colonoscopy).
It is recognised that people's medical and health circumstances vary. People aged 75 years or older should talk to their GP about their need for future screening.
How can I screen if I'm not eligible for the program?
If you are not currently eligible for the program, you can still be tested.
Your GP can request a home screening test. The pathology may be subsidised by Medicare. Tests can also be obtained over the counter from some pharmacies, while some pathology services and health organisations provide online options for purchasing a test kit.
You should discuss your situation and the use of home screening tests with a GP before purchasing one.