Health Services

Bowel Cancer Screening

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) invites Australians aged over 50 to screen for bowel cancer using a free, simple test at home.

Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world. Around one in 23 Australians will develop bowel cancer during their lifetime.

The NBCSP aims to continue to reduce deaths from bowel cancer through early detection of the disease.

What is bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer is one of Australia’s most common cancers, especially for people aged over 50.

In Australia, the lifetime risk of developing bowel cancer before the age of 75 is around one in 19 for men and one in 28 for women, which is one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world.

Around 80 Australians die each week from bowel cancer, but if found early it is one of the most curable types of cancer.

Risks of bowel cancer

There are many different risk factors for bowel cancer. The risk is greater for people who:

  • are 50 and over
  • have a significant family history of bowel cancer or polyps
  • have had an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • have previously had adenomas, a type of polyp, in the bowel.
Symptoms of bowel cancer

Bowel cancer can develop with few, if any, early warning symptoms. Symptoms of bowel cancer include:

  • bleeding from the rectum (back passage), or any sign of blood after a bowel motion
  • a recent and persistent change in bowel habit, for example looser bowel motions, severe constipation and/or needing to go to the toilet more than usual
  • unexplained tiredness (a symptom of anaemia)
  • abdominal pain.

If you have symptoms you should see your doctor.

Bowel screening

Bowel screening can help detect bowel cancer in its early stages.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP) aims to reduce illness and death from bowel cancer through regular screening to support early detection.

By 2020, all eligible Australians aged between 50 and 74 years of age will be invited to screen every two years (around four million Australians a year). This could save up to 500 lives annually, and significantly reduce the burden of bowel cancer on Australians and their families.

Participants are sent a free, easy to use screening kit that can be completed at home.

See when you will receive your free kit

Take part in the screening

You will receive your screening invitation, free screening test kit and other program information through the post around the time of your birthday.

How to use the screening kit?

Video: Using the National Bowel Cancer Screening Kit

The screening kit includes an instruction sheet that guides you through the sampling process. If you would like help to understand the instructions contact the Test Helpline 1800 738 365. They will talk to you about the test and how to do it.

Role of General practitioner (GP)

For your patients, you are asked to:

  • encourage those who are sent a screening test and for whom the test is clinically relevant, to participate
  • assess those with a positive result and refer them for further examination as clinically indicated, for example a colonoscopy
  • indicate whether a patient referred for colonoscopy is a program participant to assist with reporting to the Program Register. Program stickers are available by calling the Information Line on 1800 118 868.
  • notify the Program Register of referral/non referral for colonoscopy or other bowel examination for participants with a positive result. This can be done by returning the program’s GP Assessment Form by fax or post. Provision of information will attract a payment.
  • manage individuals identified as being at increased risk of bowel cancer in accordance with the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Guidelines.
  • inform individuals at average risk that the NHMRC Guidelines recommend screening at least once every two years from the age of 50.
  • To refer a patient to Ipswich Hospital for a colonoscopy due to a positive FOBT result for the NBCSP please fax the referral to the IGH Priority Referral Number – (07) 3413 7277
  • If you have any enquiries regarding your patient’s referral please contact (07) 3413 7816 – Endoscopy Coordinator.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) provides clinical guidelines for bowel cancer screening on its website.

Provision of information will attract a payment.

Role of colonoscopists and pathologists

For your patients, you are asked to:

  • manage patients in accordance with the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Guidelines, including informed consent, follow up treatment and/or screening as relevant
  • when assessing a patient referred for colonoscopy, identify if they are a program participant to assist with reporting to the Program Register
  • notify the Program Register of colonoscopy outcomes and any follow up testing or treatment for a program participant with a positive Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) result
  • report the results of a colonoscopy and histopathology from testing specimens collected during the colonoscopy procedure, including during a surgical resection, using the relevant program form.
  • report adverse events which may have occurred during the colonoscopy procedure.