Bowel cancer screening rates on the slide despite free testing

Aussies suffer from some of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world.

hands holding red apple bowel cancer

While Australia continues to have among the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world, only two in five eligible people are participating in the Australian Government’s National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP).

According to Cancer Australia, bowel cancer is easily treated if detected early, yet despite this advice people are not taking the opportunity to submit to free testing.

“Bowel cancer is predicted to be the second most common cause of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in Australia in 2017, yet a majority of people eligible for the program are not taking up the opportunity to participate,” said Cancer Australia Chief Executive Dr Helen Zorbas.

“This is particularly concerning in light of increasing numbers of people being diagnosed with and dying from bowel cancer, when we know that screening can prevent or find cancer early, when it can be successfully treated. If detected at the earliest stage, the five-year survival rate for bowel cancer is 93 per cent,” Dr Zorbas said.

Bowel cancer incidence is increasing, with 16,682 people (9127 men and 7555 women) expected to be diagnosed in 2017, compared to 6986 in 1982. Men are more likely to be diagnosed with, and die, from bowel cancer, and they are also less likely than women to participate in bowel cancer screening.

Most bowel cancers develop from non-malignant growths on the wall of the bowel called adenomas. These benign growths have the potential to become cancerous, and their removal lowers the risk of future bowel cancers. One in eight participants who were recalled for assessment through the NBCSP were diagnosed with adenomas.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program invites eligible people aged 50-74 to check for the disease using a free, simple test at home.

“When you receive your kit in the mail, don’t hide it in the bottom drawer, instead make it a priority. Complete the simple test and put it in the post – it could save your life,” Dr Zorbas said.

A high intake of processed meat, high alcohol consumption and smoking all increase the risk of bowel cancer, as does being overweight or having an inadequate intake of dietary fibre.

“Bowel cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, and people of all ages can take action to reduce their risk,” said Dr Zorbas.

“It’s also important to know the symptoms of bowel cancer. These include bleeding from the rectum, anaemia, changes in bowel habit, abdominal pain or cramping, bloating, weight loss and unexplained tiredness or fatigue.”

People with a family history should see their doctor for an assessment of risk and advice about management options.

For more information about the National Bowel Screening Program, visit or call 1800 118 868. 



    To make a comment, please register or login
    21st Jun 2017
    "only two in five eligible people are participating in the Australian Government’s National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP)"

    If my story is anything to go by I am not surprised. I did a test about 6 years ago. Then Last year I got a very abusive and somewhat threatening letter from NBCSP about my failure to do the recently sent test. I sent thier letter back with the comment that had I actually received the test I would have done it as I did 5 years before. The result? They sent another letter saying I had been removed from the recall list!
    21st Jun 2017
    I've also not received a letter for many years.
    21st Jun 2017
    I received my first screening kit in April with a follow up letter stating I had not returned it and did I want to be removed from list. This was the first time I had ever received information or a kit. (turned 70 in January).
    First thought, cant be bothered, then thought, well.... prob. a good idea as the radio constantly playing 'ad' for the screening kit.
    Bottom line, (pun intended!) did the test, returned a positive, was reassured by GP that sometimes false positive, had Gastroscopy & Colonoscopy earlier this week, turns out 4 polyps, 2 very large and bleeding (macroscopic and absolutely no symptoms) and had biopsies taken from other areas in gut.
    Specialist said he thought 'ok' but now awaiting Path. results in 2 weeks.

    Bit scary, but think at least aware now. So, definitely do the test.
    The process of receiving kits seems a bit hit and miss, but once the first kit 'activated' seems to be ok. Best wishes to all
    21st Jun 2017
    NOT macroscopic,, microscopic with No signs or symptoms of any problem. regards.
    21st Jun 2017
    So, if I am older than 74 (which I am ) we just wait patiently on "the long list" for a colonoscopy ? Or maybe in the meantime I get diagnosed as having symptoms of un-treatable bowel cancer - which would save need of NBCSP having to send me a "Home Test".

    21st Jun 2017
    I fully support this program. It is easy, non-intrusive and very worthwhile. It's nice to have tests and get the all clear but it's more important to catch this insidious disease in an early enough stage to be able to completely eradicate it.
    3rd Aug 2017
    No chance it will be completely eradicated, my neighbor's nephew was diagnosed with it @ 43 as was a friend's wife @ 42. Neither have any family history of it.

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