Only 4-in-10 people who received a tax-payer funded screeningtest in the mail during 2016-17 used it, according to the latest data released by the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing (AIHW). 


The results were disappointing, revealing little change in participation rates in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) over recent years.

Between January 2016 and December 2017, only four in ten (41.3%) Australians invited to screen took up the potentially life-saving opportunity.

Participation was lowest in Halls Creek, Western Australia, at just 8%.

The highest uptake was seen in Yorke Peninsula – South, in South Australia, where 59% of those invited to participate returned their samples for testing.

Every day, approximately 43 Australians receive a bowel cancer diagnosis.

Every week, Australia’s second deadliest cancer claims another 103 lives.

Symptoms can often appear without any warning signs, so screening is critical for early detection.

When detected early, 98% of bowel cancers can be successfully treated; however, fewer than 50% of bowel cancers are.

By the end of 2019, all Australians between the ages of 50 – 74, will be eligible to screen in their own home using a faecal immunochemical test (FIT) that is mailed to them every two years, through the NBCSP.

For those ineligible for the Program who want to screen according to their personal level of risk, a screening test can be purchased online, in pharmacy or by calling 1800 555 494.

But at-home screening is not enough to prevent bowel cancer.

The test only looks for traces of blood in your bowel movement, not for bowel cancer itself.

A positive result simply means blood has been detected in your samples - blood so tiny, it can be missed by the human eye. 

If blood is detected, you should contact your GP immediately to discuss the result and obtain a referral for further investigation via colonoscopy.

If you receive a positive screen result or experience bowel cancer symptoms for two weeks or more, timely colonoscopy to investigate the cause is critical, or the opportunity for early detection is lost.

The presence of blood may be due to conditions other than cancer, such as polyps, haemorrhoids, or inflammation of the bowel, but the cause of bleeding needs to be investigated by colonoscopy.

During the procedure, any polyps can be identified and removed, or a diagnosis of bowel cancer confirmed.

Although the risk of bowel cancer increases with age, you are never “too young” to have bowel cancer, with rates continuing to rise in those under age 50.

A major analysis conducted by the American Cancer Society (ACS) found people born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer compared to those born in 1950.

In response to the increasing rates of the disease in young and middle-aged populations, America has updated their guidelines for those at average risk of bowel cancer to begin screening from age 45 (previously age 50), concluding more lives will be saved if bowel cancer screening begins at age 45 for people at average risk of developing the disease.

For people aged 76 through 85, the decision to be screened should be based on a person’s preferences, life expectancy, overall health, and prior screening history.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. If your GP doesn’t take your concerns seriously, seek a second opinion.