Cancer Council Australia

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Bowel cancer screening

Bowel (or colorectal) cancer is the second most common cancer in Australia (not including non-melanoma skin cancer), and affects both men and women. It is the second most common cause of cancer death in Australia, but is highly curable if found early.

Evidence indicates that for maximum mortality and cost-saving benefits, all Australians aged 50 and over should be screened for bowel cancer every two years.

In 2006 the Australian Government introduced the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program as a one-off test for people turning 55 and 65 as part of a plan to phase in wider population coverage. Testing for 50 year-olds was added in 2008.

In May 2012, the Government announced it would inject a further $49.7 million to extend bowel cancer screening to Australians turning 60 from next year and 70 year-olds from 2015. It would then progressively shift to two-yearly screening of all Australians aged 50 to 74 from 2017-18.

The new bowel cancer screening chapter of our National Cancer Prevention Policy provides comprehensive information on bowel cancer screening in Australia, including statistical data, the evidence base, policy context and priorities.

For government information about the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, call the Information Line on 1800 118 868 (9am - 5pm across Australia).

How can people get screened while we wait for the government to expand its program?

Cancer Council Australia recommends all Australians aged 50 and over screen for bowel cancer with a faecal occult blood test (FOBT) every two years.

If you are not eligible under the national screening program, you can still be tested. Contact your General Practitioner (GP) to discuss your screening options. Your GP can request a Faecal Occult Blood Test, which is eligible for a Medicare benefit. Most pathology practices bulk bill for this test.

Other options for getting a kit:

  • Some pharmacies have FOBT kits available for purchase over the counter
  • Some pathology services or health organisations provide online options for purchasing a kit.

You should discuss the use of FOBT kits with your GP before purchasing a kit.

For more information call Cancer Council Helpline 13 11 20.

General advice

Any person who experiences persistent changes to their bowel habits should see their doctor.

More information about bowel cancer screening is available in the  bowel cancer screening chapter of the National Cancer Prevention Policy.

If you need more information or would like to talk to someone about early detection of bowel cancer call Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20.

This page was last updated on: Thursday, May 29, 2014