So, you’ve opened the mail and found your free bowel cancer screening test? Before you chuck it in the bathroom cabinet, never to see the light of day again, or throw it in the bin though, ask yourself why you’re not willing to collect a small poo sample, in the confines of your own home, if it could potentially save your life.
Bowel cancer doesn’t always show symptoms, earning it the nickname the ‘silent killer’. But the good news is that 90 per cent of bowel cancers can be successfully treated if found early – which is why bowel cancer screening is so important. Cancer Council Australia recommends that Australians aged 50 and over complete a faecal occult blood test (FOBT) every two years. FOBT is currently the most widely available and effective screening tool for detecting early signs of bowel cancer, which is the second most common cancer in Australia.
Every two years, the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program mails free bowel cancer screening tests to all Australians aged between 50 and 74. Once you receive your kit there’s nothing to be embarrassed about – it’s as simple as going to the bathroom in your own home. Complete with everything you need to successfully obtain a stool sample, the kit allows scientists to detect traces of blood in the stool which can be a sign of bowel cancer. And you don’t need to worry about what you eat or drink before the test, as no dietary preparation is required.
You need to collect two tiny samples from two separate bowel movements – one sample from each poo, ideally a day apart, but you want to do both within three days of each other. The test comes with an instruction sheet that explains how to do this. Store your first sample in the provided zip-lock bag in the fridge, until you’ve collected your second number two.
Each kit comes with a flushable toilet liner which you place in the toilet before doing a poo. The kit also includes a collection tube, and the lid comes with an attached stick you use to scrape the top of the poo, before putting the lid back on the tube. It doesn’t require a big piece to be collected, just a sample about the size of a grain of rice.
Then it’s as simple as filling in the participant form and sending the sample back in the postage-paid envelope. In about a few weeks time, after the samples have been tested in a laboratory, you’ll receive your results. A negative result means no blood was found in your samples and you’re done and dusted until the next test is sent out in two years.
If your test is positive, it means blood has been found in your samples. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have colorectal cancer, as it’s also known, but it is important to discuss the results with your doctor. From here, your GP may order more tests (usually a colonoscopy) to find out what is causing the bleeding before treatment options are discussed.
In the meantime, though, it’s always important to talk to your GP if you notice any of these symptoms – blood in your stools, or blood in the toilet bowl or on your toilet paper, changes in your bowel habits such as persistent diarrhoea or constipation, ongoing abdominal pain, bloating or discomfort, pain from your bum or anaemia.
You can find more information about the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program here.
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.
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