From 1 July 2024, people aged 45 to 49 can request their first bowel cancer screening kit to be mailed to them. People aged 50 to 74 will continue to receive a bowel cancer screening kit in the mail every 2 years.

Trust your gut feelings! Symptoms of bowel cancer and how to bowel screen

Got a gut feeling that’s left you feeling funny? Even if it’s not the case, it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye out for symptoms of bowel cancer. Bowel cancer is one of Australia’s most common cancers but also one of the most preventable!

Research conducted among LGBTQ+ people aged 50-74 found that almost 42% of respondents believe they are not at risk of developing bowel cancer. We need to flush this belief as bowel cancer screening could save your life.

Over 50? Introducing your new 2-year bowel cancer screening routine

We all need to start bowel cancer screening at age 50 and routinely screen every two years until we are 74.

But why?

Bowel cancer usually starts as harmless growths (polyps) in the large bowel, but some can turn cancerous. The good news is that it’s super preventable! These polyps can be detected and removed at an early stage.

After the age of 50, your risk of bowel cancer is significantly higher. By routinely screening, you can significantly decrease your risk of bowel cancer.

If you notice any unusual bowel symptoms (see below), it’s important to speak to a GP before you do the test to ensure it’s appropriate for you.

Earlier detection = more successful treatment.

I’m not over 50 and/or don’t have any symptoms – do I need to screen?

Whilst over 90% of bowel cancers develop in those over the age of 50, bowel cancer doesn’t discriminate. Even if you are not in the age 50+ risk group, you can still develop bowel cancer. Many young Australians are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year.

In many cases, bowel cancer can grow without noticeable symptoms. There are risk factors inherent to everyone’s background, including family history, personal health history, and hereditary conditions that can influence your risk of bowel cancer. This is why screening is more important than ever.

It is vital to know your personal level of risk towards bowel cancer. Bowel Cancer Australia recommends screening appropriate to your personal level of risk.

You can start screening from the age of 45 and up! Read further to find out how you can get your first and free bowel cancer screening kit.

If you are a young person concerned with your risk of bowel cancer, speak to your GP and check out the Never2Young initiative from Bowel Cancer Australia. If you are not eligible for the free home test kit because you are older or younger than the invited group (45–74 years of age) then you should discuss your bowel cancer screening options with your doctor. This may include purchasing a bowel screening test for about $40, or, if your doctor advises that screening is right for you, they can write a referral for an iFOBT, which means you may be able to claim part of the cost of doing a purchased test from Medicare.

Symptoms of Bowel Cancer

Listen to your gut! When it comes to early symptoms of bowel cancer, here’s what to look out for:

  • Bleeding: Never ignore blood in your stool or bleeding from your rectum.
  • Abdominal or anal pain: Don’t mistake it for a haemorrhoid! Talk to your GP to identify the reason for any unexplained or persistent pain.
  • Abnormal bowel movements: Be aware of any changes in your bowel movements such as irregularity, straining from constipation, or frequent loose diarrhea.
  • Change in shape or appearance of poo: If your poo isn’t looking like it usually does, note if there is mucus or change in colour (see Bristol Stool Chart below).
  • Unexplained anemia causing tiredness or weakness.
  • Unexplained weight loss.

If you experience one or a combination of these symptoms, don’t wait – please see your GP.

If you need to see your doctor, keep a symptom diary of what you have been experiencing. The more information you can give your GP, the easier it will be for them to make an accurate diagnosis.

Why Bowel Cancer Screening is important if you are aged 50 and over.

Everyone has a varying degree of risk of developing bowel cancer however the risk increases with age. Regardless of smoking, drinking, exercise, and diet – your bowel cancer risk is significantly higher after age 50. In NSW 93% of bowel cancers are found in people 50 years and older.

If you are over 50, you are also at greater risk if you have:

    • a previous history of bowel polyps
    • a previous history of bowel cancer
    • a family history of bowel cancer
    • chronic inflammatory bowel disease (e.g. Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
    • increased insulin levels or type 2 diabetes.

If you are at higher risk, please discuss routine screening with your doctor.

I’m over 50 – how do I get my free bowel cancer test kit?

Screening is easier than ever, hooray! Thanks to the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, Australians between 50-74 are eligible to receive a free bowel cancer screening kit by post every 2 years.

Criteria for eligible recipients:

  • Aged 50-74
  • Are entitled to Medicare as an Australian citizen or permanent resident.
  • Have a Medicare card or are registered as a Department of Veteran’s Affairs (DVA) customer; and
  • Have a mailing address in Australia.

That’s right – it’s free, convenient, and mailed to your address for use at home. The step-by-step instructions for using the test are provided with your kit. Read more on how to use the kit here.

If you are eligible and need a kit, call the National Cancer Screening Register on 1800 627 701 or use the online order form. In some cases, you may be able to ask your local GP for a test kit.

If you are 45-49 years old, you can request a free screening kit!

Great news! From 1 July 2024, the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program has lowered the eligible screening age from 50 to 45. People aged 45 to 49 can request their first free bowel cancer screening kit to be mailed directly to them. All eligible people aged 45 to 74 can talk to their doctor about getting a kit. You can also order the kit here. To simplify:

  • If you are 45-49 years old: you can request your first bowel cancer screening kit to be mailed to you.
  • If you are 50-74 years old: you will automatically receive a bowel cancer screening kit in the mail every 2 years if you meet the eligible criteria in the section above.

Reducing your cancer risk

While increasing age is the number one factor in developing bowel cancer, there are many things you can do to stay healthy and minimise your risk of cancer:

  • Drink less: Reducing your alcohol intake reduces your risk of bowel cancer. We know some in the LGBTQ+ community may drink more than the general population[1], which puts us at a higher risk of cancer and other health issues.
  • Healthy eating and being physically active: To reduce risk of bowel cancer, aim for a high fibre diet consisting of wholegrain, vegetables, fruits, beans, and nuts. Doing 30 minutes of physical activity every day that increases your heart rate will do wonders for minimising your cancer risk.
  • Consume dairy: Evidence shows consuming dairy products decreases your bowel cancer risk. If you are vegan or lactose intolerant, you may consider (vegan) calcium supplements instead.
  • Eat less red meat: By limiting your intake of red, charred, and processed meat, you can reduce your risk of bowel cancer. If barbecuing meat, cook on a low heat to avoid fat dropping onto the flame and charring the meat.
  • Quit smoking: Smoking is the leading preventable cause of cancer. We know LGBTQ+ people smoke more than the general population, and this puts us at a higher risk of cancer and other diseases. There are various benefits to quitting smoking[2].

 

Bowel cancer sounds like a real pain in the ass but it’s super preventable when caught early.

Can we:

  1. Screen before any symptoms arise and beat bowel cancer to the punch?
  2. Keep an eye out for symptoms of bowel cancer and see a GP if we notice anything unusual?
  3. Recognise our personal level of bowel cancer risk?

Yes, we can.

Do your bit. Use the kit. It’s no mess, no stress and has never been easier!

For more information on bowel cancer prevention, head to the Bowel Cancer screening section of our site. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for updates, and if you have any other questions please reach out: canwe@acon.org.au

For more resources on bowel cancer, please visit:

Free Bowel Cancer Screening Test Kit – Cancer Institute NSW