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Bowel Cancer Screening

In 2014, over 15000 people were diagnosed with bowel cancer in Australia. The risk of being diagnosed by age 85 is 1 in 11 for men and 1 in 16 for women. In 2016, over 4000 people died from bowel cancer in Australia.

The risk of bowel cancer can be reduced by not smoking, a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and maintaining a healthy body weight.

Bowel cancer, like breast and cervical cancer can be prevented or diagnosed at an early and curable stage by screening. Screening means testing for bowel polyps and early cancer before symptoms become apparent.

Screening for bowel cancer for people at low risk usually starts at the age of 50. There are various different ways to screen for bowel cancer including a non-invasive test looking for microscopic amounts of blood in the faeces (Faecal occult blood test) and colonoscopy. There are some people at higher risk who may be better served with colonoscopy such as

  • inherited genetic risk and family history
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • polyps
  • high red meat consumption, especially processed meats
  • being overweight or obese
  • high alcohol consumption
  • smoking

Second yearly FOBT testing is associted with a 16% reduction in risk of death from bowel cancer. (Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2007;1:CD001216. )

Screening colonoscopy is associated with a 67% reduction in risk of death from bowel cancer (Gut 2018).