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Bowel cancer screening policy

Early detection policy

Bowel (colorectal) cancer causes the second highest number of cancer deaths in Australia (after lung cancer) yet can usually be treated successfully if detected early.

Bowel cancers typically begin as precancerous polyps, called adenomas, which can be detected and removed before becoming cancers. The cancer tumours themselves can also be removed with relative efficiency if detected before they spread beyond the bowel.

In 1997, the Australian Government published an analysis of the data on bowel cancer screening that clearly showed the benefits in mortality reduction on a population basis. The evidence shows these are highest in people aged 50 and over, screened every two years; evidence does not support mass screening of people aged below 50.

In 2002, the government conducted pilot studies that supported the clinical and cost-effectiveness of biennial population screening for bowel cancer in Australia using the faecal occult blood test (FOBT).

The Australian Government's National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, introduced in 2006, now provides a free FOBT kit and pathology to all Australians aged 50 to 74. Cancer Council urges all eligible Australians to participate.

Detailed analysis of the evidence on bowel cancer screening and recommendations on the roll-out of Australia's National Bowel Cancer Screening Program is available in the bowel cancer chapter of our National Cancer Prevention Policy. It also includes a summary of the evidence on primary prevention of bowel cancer.

Sources:

  • Australian Health Technology Advisory Committee. Colorectal cancer screening. Canberra: Publications Production Unit, Commonwealth Department of Health and Family Services, 1997.
  • Clinical practice guidelines for the prevention, early detection and management of colorectal cancer, 2nd edition, Cancer Council Australia, National Health and Medical Research Council, 2005.

Find out more about bowel cancer screening