National Bowel Cancer Screening Program - Fact sheet

Information about bowel cancer and the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program

Page last updated: 21 August 2019 (this page is generated automatically and reflects updates to other content within the website)

PDF version: National Bowel Cancer Screening Program fact sheet (PDF 260 KB)
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Bowel Cancer

  • Australia has the second-highest incidence of bowel cancer in the world.1
  • Each year around 17,000 Australians are diagnosed with bowel cancer and around 93% of these people are aged over 50.2
  • Bowel cancer is one of Australia’s most common cancers. About 1 in 19 men and 1 in 28 women will develop bowel cancer before the age of 75.3
  • Around 80 Australians die each week from bowel cancer making it the second most common cause of cancer-related death after lung cancer.4
  • The good news is that if found early 9 out of 10 cases of bowel cancer can be successfully treated.5
  • Evidence shows that when fully implemented the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program could save 500 lives each year.6

About the Program

  • The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (the Program) is a population based screening program that aims to help detect bowel cancer early and reduce the number of Australians who die each year from the disease.
  • Screening involves testing people who do not have any obvious symptoms. The aim is to find polyps or bowel cancer early when they are easier to treat and cure. Polyps are tiny growths on the bowel lining that may become cancerous.
  • The test used in the Program is an immunochemical Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT). The test involves taking a tiny sample of faeces which is tested in a pathology laboratory. The FOBT can detect tiny amounts of blood in faeces which may be a sign of cancer or polyps. The FOBT used in the Program is the most accurate test available for use in population screening for bowel cancer.7
  • The Program is expanding and by 2020 all Australians aged between 50 and 74 years will be offered free screening every two years, consistent with the recommendations of the National Health and Medical Research Council.8 The table below shows at what age people will be invited9 as the Program moves towards 2 yearly screening. These people will receive a kit in the mail within 6 months of their birthday.
    YearEligible ages
    201650, 55, 60, 64, 65, 70, 72, 74
    201750, 54, 55, 58, 60, 64, 68, 70, 72, 74
    201850, 54, 58, 60, 62, 64, 66, 68, 70, 72, 74
    2019 onwards50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62, 64, 66, 68, 70, 72,74

Program results

  • Since the Program began in mid- 2006 to mid- 2014, over 2.5 million Australians were screened, with 3,989 people found to have suspected or confirmed cancers and 12,294 diagnosed with advanced adenomas (benign tumours that may become cancerous).
  • A 2014 study found that people who were invited to screen through the Program had 15% less risk of dying from bowel cancer, and were more likely to have less-advanced bowel cancers when diagnosed, than people who were not invited.10
  • It is expected that from 2016 to 2020 approximately 9,000 suspected or confirmed cancers and over 26,000 advanced adenomas will be detected and removed. This will significantly reduce the burden of bowel cancer on Australians and their families.

How the Program works

  • Eligible people are sent a bowel cancer screening test kit (a FOBT) by mail to complete at home and send back to a laboratory for analysis. There is no cost involved in completing the test.
  • Test results are sent directly to the participant by the pathology laboratory. A copy of the result is also sent to the participant’s nominated doctor. Participants with a positive FOBT result are advised to see their doctor to discuss the result and referral to further diagnostic testing, usually colonoscopy.
  • Follow-up health services after a positive FOBT are provided through state and territory government health services or private health services.
  • A National Program Register has been established for data collection, quality control and reporting.
  • State and territory governments have a role in following-up participants with a positive result to encourage them to see their doctor and have appropriate diagnostic tests.

Further Information

Program Website:
Program Information Line - 1800 118 868
FOBT Helpline : 1300 738 365.

For information about how to do the FOBT.
Translating & Interpreting Service - 13 14 50
The Cancer Council Helpline - 13 11 20

State and territory Cancer Councils provide a confidential service where you can talk about your concerns or questions about cancer with specially trained staff. The staff can send written information and provide contact details of services in the local area. The Helpline also supports general practice with information on diagnosis, treatment and care.


  1. Colorectal Cancer: Estimated Incidence, Mortality and Prevalence Worldwide in 2012. Section of Cancer Surveillance, International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France, 2012

  2. AIHW 2014. Cancer in Australia: an overview, 2014. Cancer series no. 78. Cat. no. CAN 75. Canberra: AIHW

  3. AIHW 2014. Cancer in Australia: an overview, 2014. Cancer series no. 78. Cat. no. CAN 75. Canberra: AIHW

  4. AIHW 2014. Cancer in Australia: an overview, 2014. Cancer series no. 78. Cat. no. CAN 75. Canberra: AIHW

  5. South Australian Cancer Registry. Incidence and mortality, 1996. Epidemiology of cancer in South Australia. Incidence, mortality and survival 1977 to 1996. Adelaide: Openbook Publishers, 1997

  6. Pignone et al. 2011. Costs and cost effectiveness of full implementation of a biennial faecal occult blood test screening program for bowel cancer in Australia. MJA. 194: 4. 180-185.

  7. HealthPACT report. July 2015. Blood and stool based biomarker testing for colorectal cancer. Queensland Department of Health.

  8. National Health and Medical Research Council, Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention, Early Detection and Management of Colorectal Cancer, Sydney, December 2005.

  9. The names and addresses of those eligible to participate in the program are drawn from Medicare and Department of Veteran’s Affairs enrolment records.

  10. AIHW 2014. Analysis of bowel cancer outcomes for the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. Cat. no. CAN 87. Canberra: AIHW

National Bowel Cancer Screening Program
Information Line: 1800 118 868
All information in this publication is correct as at May 2016