Bowel cancer screening involves a test for bowel cancer in people who do not have any obvious symptoms of the disease.
Bowel cancer can develop without any early warning signs. The cancer can grow on the inside wall of the bowel for several years before spreading to other parts of the body.
Often very small amounts of blood, invisible to the naked eye, leak from these growth and pass into bowel movements before any symptoms are noticed.
A bowel cancer screening test called a Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) can detect these small amounts of blood in bowel movements.
The test looks for blood in your bowel movement, but not for bowel cancer itself.
Screening using a faecal immunochemical test (FIT) is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of dying from bowel cancer. The FIT can detect blood from pre-cancerous polyps or from early stage bowel cancer. When identified early, 98% of bowel cancer cases can be successfully treated.
The faecal immunochemical test involves placing small samples of toilet water or stool on a special card and mailing them to a pathology laboratory for analysis. The results are then sent back to you and your GP.
A negative result means blood has not been detected in your samples and it is recommended that you repeat a bowel cancer screening test every 2 years. However, this does not mean that you do not have, or can never develop, bowel cancer, since some bowel cancers do not bleed or only bleed on and off. In between times, if you develop any symptoms of bowel cancer, see your GP immediately.
A positive result means blood has been detected in your samples. If blood is detected, you should contact your GP immediately to discuss the result and obtain a referral for further investigation via colonoscopy within 30 days. The presence of blood may be due to conditions other than cancer, such as polyps, haemorrhoids, or inflammation of the bowel, but the cause of bleeding needs to be investigated by colonoscopy. During the procedure, any polyps can be identified and removed or a diagnosis of bowel cancer confirmed.
The faecal immunochemical test has been selected as the preferred testing method for the BowelScreen Australia® Program and the tax-payer funded National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP).