Of the 4.1 million people invited to participate in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program between January 2016 and December 2017, only four in every ten took up the offer according to the latest AIHW report.


The rate was the same as for the previous rolling 2-year period (2015–2016) (41%) and is now hovering at the same rate it was in 2009, before dropping to just 36.1% in 2012.

The Federal Government invites eligible people beginning at age 50 and continuing to age 74 to screen for bowel cancer every two years using a test that can be done at home.

The aim of screening is to reduce deaths from bowel cancer through early detection of the disease when 98% of cases can be successfully treated.

“At-home screening can play a vital role in the early detection of bowel cancer which often develops without any warning signs,” said Bowel Cancer Australia CEO Julien Wiggins.

The faecal immunochemical test (FIT) looks for traces of blood in your poo, which could be a sign of 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,” said Mr Wiggins.

“If you receive a positive screen result timely colonoscopy to rule out bowel cancer as an underlying cause is critical, or the opportunity for early detection is lost,” Mr Wiggins added.

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

“The best screening test is the one that gets done, provided a positive test is followed up with timely colonoscopy to complete the screening process.”

Approximately 69,000 Australians returned a positive screening test in 2017, giving an 8% screening positivity rate. Of those who received a positive test, 66% reported a follow-up diagnostic colonoscopy.

Concerningly, for those who received a positive test result, the latest data reveals lengthy colonoscopy waitlists are well outside of medical guidelines recommendations in nearly every state and territory.

“Delays to colonoscopy have the potential to undermine the objective of the Program, which is currently costing taxpayers $74 million a year,” said Mr. Wiggins.

Why do you think participation in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program remains so low?

What do you believe are the biggest obstacles preventing Australians from taking the test?

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Should the NBCSP screening ages be extended?

In response to the increasing rates of the disease in people under age 50, in 2018, the American Cancer Society 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.

A major analysis conducted by the Society 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.

Although the risk of bowel cancer increases with age, you should never assume you are too young to get bowel cancer, with rates rising in Australians under age 50 between 2004 -2014 according to the latest research.

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.

If you are ineligible for the NBCSP wish to screen according to your individual level of risk, talk to your GP or pharmacist about how to purchase a BowelScreen Australia® test.

Alternatively, to purchase a test online, please visit the BowelScreen Australia® webpage or call 1800 555 494.