Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in Australia, but Cancer Council Australia CEO Professor Tanya Buchanan says free national bowel screening saves lives by catching cancer signs.Bowel cancer is now the second biggest cancer killer in Australia, but more than 50 per cent of Australians still neglect to take the free test offered to catch it early. Cancer Council Australia CEO Professor Tanya Buchanan says free national bowel screening can save lives by uncovering signs of bowel cancer. “In 2018-19, around 5.7 million people aged 50-74 were invited to participate in the program,” Buchanan says. “Around 43.5 per cent do the screenings, but we know if we can get 60 per cent of those eligible to participate, it would save around 84,000 lives by 2040.” Here’s what you need to know about bowel cancer and the free tests as Professor Buchanan answers our questions: WHAT IS BOWEL CANCER?It’s a cancer that develops in the inner lining of the bowel. It usually begins with precancerous growths or lesions called polyps. If undetected, they can become invasive. ARE POLYPS ALWAYS A SIGN OF CANCER? No, polyps won’t always be invasive. What the bowel cancer screening test does is detect blood in the poo, which can be a sign of precancerous lesions. WHY DO SOME POLYPS BECOME CANCEROUS? We don’t know the reasons why some people get it and some don’t. We do know there are things people can do to reduce risks, such as cutting back on alcohol, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and a healthy diet. WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF BOWEL CANCER?They include blood in the poo or in the toilet bowel, as well as recent but persistent changes in your toilet habits, such as severe constipation, ongoing diarrhoea or having to go to the loo more often than usual. Unexplained tiredness, weight loss or stomach pain are also symptoms. If you have concerns about changes to your body, it’s important to talk to your doctor. HOW MANY AUSTRALIANS ARE AFFECTED BY BOWEL CANCER?Around 15,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. It’s the second biggest cancer killer and does unfortunately claim the lives of around 100 Australians every week. WHO IS MOST SUSCEPTIBLE TO BOWEL CANCER?It’s not just people with family history or a pre-existing condition, it can happen to anyone. The risk increases with age. WHAT ARE THE BEST PREVENTIVE METHODS?Other than living a healthy lifestyle, the best thing is doing the bowel cancer screening test. It’s the number one thing that could save your life because it detects cancer early, before there are any symptoms. We know that around 90 per cent of cases are successfully treated if they’re detected early. HOW DOES THE BOWEL CANCER SCREENING TEST WORK? It’s a free, at-home testing kit that’s mailed to people aged 50-74. Participants take a faecal sample that’s very quick and hygienic. You take two samples of poo and post it back. The kit is mailed to you, you do it in your home and send it back. There’s no embarrassment involved. If the test picks up blood in the poo, you get a notification to go back to your GP, who will look at your history and give you a treatment plan. WHEN DID THE TEST BECOME AVAILABLE?In 2016, with the view all eligible Australians would receive the invitation to screen every two years by 2020. Now what we need to do is make sure we get that participation rate up. WHY DON’T PEOPLE TAKE THE TEST?Most people intend to do the test, but forget. We want to remind people that when this free envelope shows up in your mail, to put it in the bathroom on your vanity (so) you’ll remember to get on with it when you go to the bathroom next time. It’s too easy to just pop it in a drawer and forget it’s there. Scan the QR code for more information:Originally published as Home screening ‘best thing’ for life-saving early cancer detection
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