Australian Government Department of Health
National Bowel Cancer Screening Program
Photos of Older Australians

About the Program

This page provides up to date information on bowel cancer and where to get extra information.

National Bowel Cancer Screening Program

Biennial Screening Implementation

In the 2014 Federal Budget the Government announced a further $95.9 million over four years to accelerate the implementation of biennial screening for all Australians aged 50 to 74 years between 2015 and 2020.

This will ensure that the programme is consistent with the National Health and Medical Research Council clinical guidelines, which recommend screening every two years from age 50.

This means that as well as the people currently being invited to screen (50, 55, 60 and 65 year olds) other age groups will be added as follows:
  • 2015: 70 and 74 year olds
  • 2016: 72 and 64 year olds
  • 2017: 68, 58 and 54 year olds
The four remaining age groups 52, 56, 62 and 66 year olds, will be included from 2018 to 2020.

It is estimated that when fully rolled out, approximately four million eligible Australians will be invited annually.

Research shows that biennial screening can save up to 500 lives annually1 . This will significantly reduce the burden of bowel cancer on Australians and their families.

Bowel cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in Australia, and around 80 Australians die each week from the disease. Bowel cancer can be treated successfully if detected in its early stages, but currently fewer than 40 per cent of bowel cancers are detected early.

People eligible to participate in the programme will receive an invitation through the mail to complete a simple test called a faecal occult blood test (FOBT) in the privacy of their own home and mail it to a pathology laboratory for analysis. There is no cost involved in completing the FOBT.

FOBTs have been shown in overseas clinical trials and in the programme to be simple to use and highly effective.

Participants with a positive FOBT result will be advised to discuss the result with their doctor, who will generally refer them for further investigations, usually a colonoscopy.

Media Release - More Bowel Screening Will Save Lives

Who is currently being invited to take part in the programme?

Australians turning 50, 55, 60 or 65 years of age, who hold a Medicare card or DVA card, are currently being invited to take part in the programme.

70 and 74 year olds will be added in 2015 with other cohorts to follow as indicated above.

Temporary visa holders and temporary residents will not be invited to participate in the programme regardless of whether they are in the specified age range.

Why are people aged over 50 being invited to take part?

Research shows that the risk of developing bowel cancer rises significantly from the age of 50. The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that organised FOBT screening of average risk people should commence at 50 years of age.

Any Australians, including younger people, who have concerns about their risk of developing bowel cancer should discuss their health with their general practitioner.

How are people identified as eligible to be invited to participate in the programme?

The names and addresses of people eligible to be invited to participate in the programme are obtained from Medicare enrolment records or Department of Veterans' Affairs enrolment records.

When will invitations be sent to participate in the programme?

If a person is eligible, a pre-invitation letter followed by an invitation package, including an FOBT kit, will be sent by mail. While you will be invited as close as possible to your birthday, you may receive your invitation up to six months after your birthday.

Why do eligible people who don't have any symptoms need to participate in screening?

Screening involves testing for bowel cancer in people who do not have any obvious symptoms of the disease. The aim is to find cancer or pre-cancer early when it is easier to treat.

Screening is important because bowel cancer can develop without any early warning symptoms. Bowel cancer can be treated successfully if detected in its early stages.

Doing an FOBT every two years, can reduce your risk of dying from bowel cancer by up to one third.

Where can I go to get an FOBT if I am not eligible to participate in the programme?

If you are not eligible to be invited through the programme you can speak with your doctor or pharmacist about how to obtain an FOBT.

For more information regarding screening for bowel cancer, speak to your doctor or call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20.


1 Pignone P.P, Flitcroft K.L et al: Costs and cost-effectiveness of full implementation of a biennial faecal occult blood test screening program for bowel cancer in Australia. MJA 2011.

Page currency, Latest update: 13 May, 2014