If a quick test at home can actually prevent cancer, maybe concerns like squeamishness or lack of time should be set aside.
A NSW surgeon encourages people to take part in the free national bowel cancer screening program, which mails bowel screening kits to people aged 50 to 74 every two years.
The surgeon, who preferred not to be named, said people should not feel anxious or be put off by the screening kit.
“It’s very, very simple and the instructions are very clear,” he said. “You can do it on a weekend, it doesn’t impinge on your time or your work or anything.”
He emphasised the kit itself was not a cancer test and a positive result could mean several possibilities.
“Sometimes people get a fright and think they tested positive for cancer, it’s not a cancer test, they test for blood molecules,” he said.
“If the test is negative – in other words, the test is clear, you did it properly – then the chance of having bowel cancer at that stage is one in 10,000."
The surgeon said up to 18,000 new bowel cancers were diagnosed every year in Australia, one of the highest rates in the world.
“All colorectal cancer starts in a polyp, it doesn’t start as a cancer,” he said.
“There’s about a two to seven year time from polyp to cancer, it’s a sequence that happens over time.
“It’s a preventable disease in the sense that if you have a colonoscopy and you remove the polyp, you won’t contract the cancer.”
The Cancer Institute NSW chief cancer officer and chief executive David Currow said people should use their free, home-delivered test kit as soon as it arrived because early detection was critical.
“Bowel cancer can be successfully treated in 90 per cent of cases if it is detected early so please don’t leave these kits in your drawer or wait until you are experiencing symptoms,” Professor Currow said.
The surgeon said although polyps, once removed, did not grow back, others could develop later.
He advised people not to ignore the free screening kit, but instead follow the instructions it contained.
“That’s what I do,” he said.
“I just do the test as they send it.”