Picture this: an unexpected package arrives in the mail, so you open it carefully to discover a box and a list of simple instructions.
The instructions tell you that the contents of the box could prevent you from enduring years of pain, and possibly even save your life.
What do you do? Well, if you’re like two-thirds of all Aussies, you put the box aside and never look at it again.
That’s the sad truth about the free bowel cancer screening kit.
The federal government introduced the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program – which asks people to post a sample of their poo to a lab for testing – in 2006 in order to fight the country’s second biggest cancer killer. But only about a third of the testing kits are returned every year.
Bowel cancer kills around 80 people every week in Australia, making it one of the country’s deadliest cancers. Yet if caught early, up to 90 per cent of cases of bowel cancer can be successfully treated.
By 2020, the government plans to be sending all Aussies aged between 50 and 74 one of the screening kits every two years.
The kit, which is designed to allow the testing lab to detect minute traces of blood in your bowel movement, contains a simple, sanitary method of collecting a faecal sample in the privacy of your own home.
Once your sample is returned to the lab by post and analysed, you’ll be informed by mail whether you had a ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ result. Your results will also be sent to your GP, if nominated. If your results are positive, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have bowel cancer, just that you have traces of blood in your faecal matter, which could point towards one of a number of health issues.
Anyone who receives a positive result should talk to their GP to determine the next steps.
The risk of developing bowel cancer increases with age, with a significant jump in the likelihood once you’re aged over 50. And although it is a highly treatable illness, the warning signs of bowel cancer can often be difficult to detect or only present themselves once the cancer has progressed to a more serious level, which is why completing the free bowel cancer screening kit is so important.
While family history is a strong risk indicator in some cancers, 75 per cent of people who develop bowel cancer have no previous cases of the disease in their family tree.
Yet about 1 in every 19 men and 1 in 28 women will develop the illness.
These are the reasons using the free bowel cancer screening kit is so important; there are ways you can reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer, but a ‘faecal occult blood test’ can alert you to an already developing cancer well before you may discover it by other means.
Bowel cancer develops when cells in the bowel lining grow too quickly, forming a clump known as a polyp. Polyps are usually benign, but can grow for years before becoming cancerous and spreading to other parts of the body.
Once the polyps have become cancerous, symptoms can include bleeding from the rectum, changes in bowel habits – from constipation to frequently needing to go to the toilet –unexplained tiredness or abdominal pain.
While the dangers of bowel cancer are very real, there are ways to reduce your risk, including maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, reducing alcohol consumption and quitting smoking.
Cutting down on your consumption of red meat and processed meats such as ham, salami and bacon, which have all been scientifically linked to bowel cancer, is recommended.
Doctors also suggest increasing your fibre intake from vegetables, fruit and wholegrains to keep your bowels functioning healthily.
The most proactive way to immediately take charge of your health, though, is to complete your bowel cancer screening kit when it arrives in the mail, and post your sample back for testing.
is Australia’s second biggest cancer killer. But, if detected early, it can be successfully treated up to 90% of the time. The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is sending out free bowel cancer screening tests to all Australians aged 50 to 74. Do the test, when it comes in the post.