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

National Bowel Cancers Screening Program - Information Booklet

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program


The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program has been initiated by the Australian Government, in partnership with state and territory governments, to help detect bowel cancer early and reduce the number of Australians who die each year from the disease.

What does the Program involve?

Over the next three years up to 2.5 million Australians turning 50, 55 or 65 years of age between January 2008 and December 2010 will be invited to take part in screening for bowel cancer.

The names and addresses of people eligible to take part in the Program have been drawn from Medicare or Department of Veterans’ Affairs records. The way in which invitations to take part in the screening program are sent out will vary within each state and territory, with some people getting their invitations around the time of their birthday, and some getting their invitations at the same time as others living in their area.

Eligible people are being sent a bowel cancer screening test kit (a FOBT) by mail and will be asked to take samples from two separate bowel motions before sending the completed test back to the laboratory for analysis. There is no cost involved in completing the test.

The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends screening with FOBT every two years from the age of 50 years. However, the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program only offers one-off FOBT screening. If you wish to undertake regular FOBT screening, you should talk to your doctor.

Why are only people who are turning 50, 55 or 65 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.

It is important that the screening program be introduced gradually to ensure that health services, such as colonoscopy and treatment services, are able to meet any increased demand. That is why, during this phase of the Program, only those people turning 50, 55 or 65 years of age between January 2008 and December 2010 are being invited to screen. If other members of your household are not in this age group, they will not receive an invitation to take part in this phase of the Program.

I don’t want to take part. Can I give my invitation to someone else?

No. At the moment the free screening test is only available for those people who have been invited to take part in the Program. If you know someone who wants to have a test for bowel cancer, or is concerned about their health, you should advise them to contact their doctor.

What if I need another test kit?

If you lose or damage your test kit and need a replacement, please contact the Information Line on 1800 118 868. Please note that only two replacement kits will be issued per Program participant. If you have reached your limit for replacement kits and still require testing you should contact your doctor. Please note that time limits apply for replacement requests.

What if I cannot understand the test’s instructions?

Call the FOBT Helpline on 1300 738 365 if you are unsure about how to do the test. They will talk you through it step by step.

Do I have to take part?

No. Participation in the Program is voluntary – it is your choice.

If you do not complete the FOBT, one reminder letter will be sent.

What if I choose not to participate in the Program?

Opting off the Program

If you choose not to take part in the Program, you can opt off. By choosing to opt off the Program, you will not receive any reminder letters for this phase and you will not be invited to screen during any future phases, unless you notify the Register that you want to be involved.

You can opt off the Program by completing the opt-off section of the form at page 27 of this information booklet or by ringing the Information Line on 1800 118 868. If you opt off by telephone, a confirmation letter will be sent to you.

If you opt off the Program after you have completed a FOBT and sent it for analysis, the results of the test will still be sent to you and your doctor (if nominated).

If you have a positive test result but have chosen to opt off the Program, the Register will not send you (or your doctor if nominated) reminder letters about discussing your test result with your doctor and/or attending for follow up tests.

Please note that if you opt off during this phase of the Program you will not be invited to screen during any future phases, unless you notify the Register that you want to be involved.

Suspending from the Program

If you are unable to participate in the Program now, but would like to in the near future, you can suspend for a period of time.

You can do this by completing the suspend section of the form at page 27 of this information booklet or by ringing the Information Line on 1800 118 868. If you suspend over the telephone,a confirmation letter will be sent to you.

If you choose to suspend your participation in the Program you will be asked to advise of a preferred date to recommence. After the period of suspension has expired, the Register will re-commence sending to you invitations to screen and other correspondence.

Please note that once you complete the FOBT and send it for analysis, the results of the test will be sent to you and your doctor (if nominated), even if you have indicated that you want to suspend from the Program.

What if I have opted off and then change my mind about participating in the Program?

If you have opted off during this phase of the Program but decide you want to become involved again in this or future phases, you must notify the Information Line on 1800 118 868.

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Page currency, Latest update: 16 October, 2009