Bowel cancer affects more than 14,200 Australians annually with more than 4,000 people dying every year, making it the second leading cancer killer.
At the age of 50, you have approximately a 1 in 100 chance of developing bowel cancer in the following 10 years and by the age of 60, the risk is 1 in 100 in the following 5 years. If you have a family history then these risks are increased.
Individuals should begin home screening with a faecal occult blood test (FOBT) at least once every two years from the age of 50.
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) uses a test (FOBT) to detect microscopic amounts of blood in the stool. The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program test kit from the Australian Government's Department of Health is simple, free and can be done in the privacy of your own home. The bowel screening program requires you to collect 2 tiny poo samples using the home test kit and mail them to the laboratory for testing. If you have trouble conducting this test, the test kit helpline is available. The bowel cancer screening test is mailed out to Australians when they turn 50 and has proven to reduce the amount of fatal bowel cancer cases in Australia and save countless lives as positive test results prompt individuals to grow concerned about their bowel health.
Bowel cancers have a variety of subtle and obvious symptoms that cause the body to shut down. A bowel cancer screening test should provide information about whether possible symptoms are dangerous in nature. You should have a screening test if you experience:
If you have a positive test result your next step should be to have a blood test and colonoscopy. Contact the Centre for Gastrointestinal Health for more information and to make an appointment. If you have a negative test result, which means no blood has been detected in the samples you provided, this does not mean you do not or will not develop bowel cancer. It is recommended you remain vigilant and monitor for any symptoms of bowel cancer, and repeat the screening test in two years time. While colonoscopy is effective in reducing deaths from bowel cancer there have been limitations to its effectiveness. There has been increasing awareness of the potential for "missed lesions" but there have also been significant developments to help reduce this risk. These developments include improved preparation of the colon, use of high definition wide-angle colonoscopes and video equipment carbon dioxide insufflation of the colon, retroflexion of the endoscope to look behind folds as well as the assessment of withdrawal time and adenoma detection rates by the endoscopist. These advancements in technology will assist in reducing the amount of bowel cancer-related deaths, however, the message here should be that early intervention provides higher chances of survival.
Dr Yoganathan has incorporated all these developments into the practice of colonoscopy. All Australians at the age of 40 years should talk to their doctor about the screening options and services to prevent bowel cancer. The majority of bowel cancer (possibly up to 99%) begins in a polyp, which is a benign growth in the colon. The growth advances in between 5-7 years which gives a potential window of opportunity for removal to prevent cancer while it is still curable. Every year the chance of contracting bowel cancer increases so ensure that you are noting any changes in bowel motions. This is why testing and screening frequently is of the utmost importance.
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