health

"It's a two minute job that could save your life. Why wouldn't you do it?"

Terry White Chemists
Thanks to our brand partner, Terry White Chemists

Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world. Yet the stigma that continues to surround the disease contributes an aversion to regular testing.

This aversion could have spelled a very different future for 50-year-old Jayne Hallam, who received one of the Australian Government’s free bowel cancer testing kits late last year.

“I had the kit lying around at home from around November to January of this year. Rather than throwing it out I just thought I’d use it and nothing would come of it,” Hallam says.

She had no symptoms to speak of and no family history of bowel cancer. However, she received a letter explaining her sample had tested positive for faecal blood.

At this stage, the registered nurse wasn’t too concerned.

"Rather than throwing it out I just thought I’d use it and nothing will come of it." Image: iStock.

“It’s not unusual to get a false positive, it could be anything it could have been a little fissure that opens when you go to the toilet," she explains.

“In hindsight, when I look back at bowel changes and things like that, there was obviously something going on. It just didn’t click. But there was nothing that made me think, 'Oh that’s a sign or a symptom'; it could very easily be explained.”

During a holiday overseas, Hallam’s symptoms worsened. "While we were away I had noticed visible blood in my stools, and by visible I mean clots," she recalls.

On her return she had an appointment with a specialist, and during a colonoscopy a few days later an 18-millimetre tubulovillous adenoma was found and removed.

“The specialist said he wasn’t overly concerned because it had now been removed. However, there is a higher risk of cancer of people who have had that so now I am on a surveillance program,” Hallam says.

“It really is a minority that anything comes back of anything of concern when they do a colonoscopy. I just think, 'Oh my goodness, it could have been so different if I had just kept ignoring it.'”

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Bowel cancer is usually a slow-growing cancer. There are often no signs in the early stages of the disease, but symptoms like changes in bowel habits, bleeding, abdominal pain or cramping, bloating and unexplained fatigue can be noticed.

It is important to be aware of your bowel movements. Image: iStock.

While it’s one of the most preventable cancers if caught early, it is still killing 75 Australians a week, on average, and is the second biggest cancer killer.

Terry White Chemists are encouraging Australians to be bowel cancer aware, and working to end the stigma associated with screening for it. They offer advice around prevention, detection and treatment and will be selling simple at-home testing kits for $35 each.

It’s recommended that all Australians over the age of 50 take a faecal occult blood test every two years, offered for free by the Australian Government’s National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. The test is non-invasive and involves placing a small sample of toilet water (not faeces) and mailing it to a lab for analysis. The test looks for blood in your bowel movement, but not for cancer itself.

Hallam has some words of advice for anyone her age that is still holding out on getting tested.

“I just think that we’re so lucky to have this screening program, why wouldn’t you do it? It’s a two-minute job," she says.

“Just do it. I’ve been so vocal about this, because it’s something [where] I think you really don’t know there’s a problem until it’s too late.”

Have you or someone you know survived bowel cancer due to early detection?

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