Bowel cancer remains Australia’s second deadliest cancer and ranks among the top five killers overall of Australians aged 45-74.i

Yet the latest National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) Report released today by the AIHW reveals participation rates continue to hover at 42.4% and colonoscopy wait times for those who receive a positive screen far exceed the ‘desirable’ 30 days.ii
According to the report, slightly more than 5 million people aged 50-74 were invited to participate in the NBCSP in 2017-18, but only 2.1 million took up the offer.

Of those who participated, 78,600 received a positive test result.

A positive result means that blood was detected in the sample and requires further investigation via colonoscopy within 30 days.

But only 51,000 (66%) participants were recorded as receiving a follow-up colonoscopy.

Of those participants who received the procedure following a positive screen, the wait varied between 111 and 228 days, depending on where they lived.

Medical guidelines acknowledge that wait times exceeding 120 days between first healthcare presentation and diagnostic colonoscopy are associated with poorer clinical outcomes.iii

“Timely diagnosis is paramount,” said colorectal surgeon, Dr Graham Newstead AM.

“We know when bowel cancer is detected in the earliest stages, almost 99 percent of cases can be successfully treated.

“The opportunity for early detection is lost if a positive test is not followed up by a prompt colonoscopy,” he added.

Today’s report reveals that despite some improvements, colonoscopy wait-times continue to exceed medical guidelines.
These gains, which have taken years to achieve, may however have been wiped out during a few weeks, when elective surgery had to be cancelled due COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, we will not know the full impact on colonoscopy wait times for years as data in the monitoring reports lag real time and is typically released two years later,” said Dr Newstead.
i. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2020. Australia’s health 2020: in brief. Australia’s health series no. 17 Cat. no. AUS 232. Canberra: AIHW.
ii. NSW Agency for Clinical Innovation. Eligibility for endovascular clot retrieval: NSW Referral Guide. Sydney: ACI; 2020.