My patients will be familiar with my irreverent lamentation – nobody wants to wear a brown ribbon. Unfortunately, bowel cancer is both ‘unglamorous’ and common, with roughly 1 in 25 Australians affected, one of the highest rates in the world. It’s not all bad news however, as bowel cancer is a condition where an early diagnosis means a very good cure rate.

Increase your odds of an early diagnosis by partaking in bowel cancer screening regularly. The term ‘screening’ in medicine means that healthy and well people (at low risk and without symptoms) undergo a simple test to check for signs of disease – in this case, the presence of trace amounts of blood in the stools. Don’t cringe, the sample is merely a swab taken from the toilet bowel at home a few days in a row (if only Pap smears could be done with such ease!). A positive test result indicates the need for further investigation to check the source of the blood, usually a colonoscopy within 4 weeks. Aside from routine screening, anyone, at any age, at high risk or with untoward symptoms should not delay in discussing their situation with their GP.

The Federal government is implementing a scheme where everyone aged 50-75 will be offered free screening every 2 years. This will be complete by 2020, but at present only those aged 50, 55, 60 and 65 are sent kits. My advice would be not to wait – if you are aged 50-75 and haven’t had a screening test in the last 2 years you should ask you GP as it is very easily arranged.

In the meantime eat vegetables, exercise, have a few less alcoholic drinks, consider quitting smoking, and wear a ribbon (it is actually a beautiful green and red for bowel cancer awareness) – the reminder may save someone’s life!

Dr Cath Hester at

These articles are not intended to replace a one-to-one relationship with a qualified health professional or as specific medical advice. They are intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from experience and research in the scientific literature. I encourage you to make your own health care decisions based upon a partnership with a qualified health care professional.