How Free Home Kit Infects Cancer

Bowel cancer is Australia’s second-biggest cancer killer, but Cancer Council Australia CEO Prof Tanya Buchanan says free national bowel screening saves lives by detecting signs of cancer.

Colon cancer is now Australia’s second biggest cancer killer, but more than 50 percent of Australians still neglect the free test offered to catch cancer early.

Cancer Council of Australia CEO Professor Tanya Buchanan says free national bowel screening can save lives by detecting signs of bowel cancer.

“In 2018-2019, about 5.7 million people aged 50 to 74 were invited to participate in the program,” says Buchanan.

“About 43.5% are screening, but we know that if we can get 60% of those who are eligible, that will save about 84,000 lives by 2040.”

Here’s what you need to know about colon cancer and free tests as Professor Buchanan answers our questions:

WHAT IS BOWEL CANCER?

This is a cancer that develops in the inner lining of the intestine. It usually starts with precancerous growths or lesions called polyps. If not detected, they can become invasive.

ARE POLYPS ALWAYS A SIGN OF CANCER?

No, polyps will not always be invasive. What a colon cancer screening test does is detect blood in the stool, which can be a sign of precancerous lesions.

WHY DO SOME POLYPS BECOME CANCER?

We don’t know why some people do it and others don’t. We know there are things people can do to reduce their risks, such as cutting down on alcohol, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating healthy.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF BOWEL CANCER?

These include blood in the feces or in the bowels of the toilet, as well as recent but persistent changes in your toilet habits, such as severe constipation, persistent diarrhea, or needing to go to the toilet more often than usual. Unexplained fatigue, weight loss, or abdominal pain are also symptoms.

If you have concerns about changes in your body, it’s important to talk to your doctor.

HOW MANY AUSTRALIANS GET BOWEL CANCER?

Approximately 15,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. It is the second biggest killer of cancer and unfortunately claims the lives of around 100 Australians every week.

WHO IS THE MOST SUCCESSFUL FOR INTESTINAL CANCER?

It’s not just people with a family history or pre-existing condition, it can happen to anyone. The risk increases with age.

WHAT ARE THE BEST PREVENTIVE METHODS?

In addition to a healthy lifestyle, it is best to do a screening test for bowel cancer. It is the number one that can save your life because it detects cancer early, before any symptoms appear. We know that about 90 percent of cases are successfully treated if they are detected early.

HOW DOES THE BOWEL CANCER SCREENING TEST WORK?

This is a free home testing kit that is mailed to people aged 50-74. Participants take a fecal sample, which is very quick and hygienic. You take two poop samples and send them back. The kit is sent to you by mail, you do it at home and send it back. There is no embarrassment.

If the test finds blood in the stool, you will be notified to return to your GP, who will review your medical history and give you a treatment plan.

WHEN WAS THE TEST AVAILABLE?

In 2016, all eligible Australians will receive an invitation to view every two years by 2020. Now we need to make sure that we increase this level of participation.

WHY DON’T PEOPLE TAKE THE TEST?

Most people intend to take the test but forget. We want to remind people that when this free envelope shows up in your mail, put it in the bathroom on your vanity (so) you don’t forget to take it with you the next time you go to the bathroom. It’s too easy to put it in a drawer and forget it’s there.

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Originally published as Home screening is ‘the best’ for early life-saving cancer detection