Date published: 
26 March 2019
General public

Statement from the Chief Medical Officer

The release today of the review of the Clinical Practice Guidelines for Surveillance Colonoscopy highlights the need for doctors to take more care when determining which patients should be referred for colonoscopy. 

The review, by Cancer Council Australia, focused on the appropriate use of colonoscopy in colorectal cancer prevention and early detection and found frequent and inappropriate requests for low-yield colonoscopy are not supported by sound evidence. 

Such requests can overwhelm colonoscopy services and delay follow-up investigation of people with positive bowel screening tests.

The Guidelines provide direction on when and how colonoscopy should be used for Australians who have been diagnosed with a previous adenomatous polyp or bowel cancer, or who have ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. They will also help prioritisation of colonoscopy waiting lists, so that access for people needing the procedure for other indications - such as a positive bowel screening test or bowel symptoms - is timely and not inappropriately delayed.

The new guidelines complement the Clinical Practice Guidelines for Prevention, Early Detection and Management of Colorectal Cancer released in 2017, which support Australia’s National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.

Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related death in Australia with 17,000 people diagnosed each year.

Early stages of the disease can often be asymptomatic, so screening is absolutely critical for the early detection of bowel cancer. 

Research shows that 90 percent of bowel cancers can be successfully treated through early detection, reducing the number of people who die from this disease.

I encourage all eligible Australians aged 50-74 years to participate in the free National Bowel Cancer Screening Program as the best way to prevent bowel cancer deaths and gain new efficiencies in colonoscopy use. 

The guidelines are available on the Cancer Council website.

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Office holder

Professor Brendan Murphy

Professor Brendan Murphy is the Chief Medical Officer for the Australian Government and is the principal medical adviser to the Minister and Health.

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Last updated: 
25 March 2019