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Beating bowel cancer

Posted by Shannon, July 2014

For most Australian men, turning 51 doesn't evoke quite the same momentous sense of reflection and appreciation for one's existence as the big 50. But for Michael Wade, his 51st marked a beginning and fortuitous end with bowel cancer, and a new outlook on life.

Michael's luck first struck soon after his 51st, when he happened to notice the impending expiration date of an unused Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) kit he received in the mail just over a year earlier.

After completing and sending the test off for analysis, it took only a couple of days for Michael to hear back and receive a concerning positive result. Upon fulfilling a referral for a colonoscopy, he was diagnosed with stage 2 bowel cancer.

Fortunately for Michael, time was on his side, and his subsequent trip into surgery was successful in removing the cancer and all nearby lymph nodes.

"I'm very thankful that I decided to do the test when I did," said Michael. "Without the screening program, I would have been completely unaware of the cancer until my symptoms had developed, by which time the cancer may have become life threatening."

In the early stages of its development, bowel cancer often shows no symptoms. The momentous feeling of relief for Michael and his family in having caught the cancer in time highlights the importance of free screening tests, such as the FOBT.

Last month, Cancer Council launched Victoria's first ever TV campaign, promoting the life-saving benefits of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. The campaign coincides with a federal budget announcement that the free screening program will be fully implemented by July 2020, which means all Australians aged 50 and over, will be mailed a free FOBT test, every two years.

Currently Victorians aged 50, 55, 60 and 65 are mailed an FOBT test, which is a simple test that can be done at home. People aged 70 and 74 will be invited next year, with the remaining gaps in program coverage filled over the subsequent three years.

In the meantime, people aged over 50 who currently fall outside the target group, or anyone concerned about bowel cancer, should talk to their GP about bowel cancer screening.

"I highly recommend that all Australians take part in the bowel cancer screening program and carry out the simple, non-invasive test as soon as they turn 50," said Michael. "Don't put it off like I did, and don't wait for symptoms to occur as this could be too late."

Find out more at bowelcancer.org.au.

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