Bowel screening can save lives
Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers in Australia.
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program reduces illness and death from bowel cancer by detecting the early signs of the disease using a free, simple test that can be done at home.
Why bowel screening is important
Bowel cancer often develops without any symptoms. The cancer can grow in the bowel for years before spreading to other parts of the body.
Very small amounts of blood can leak from these growths and pass into your faeces (poo). These tiny amounts of blood are not noticeable just by looking – that's where screening comes in.
Screening can find tiny amounts of blood in your poo that may be a sign of bowel cancer. The good news is that if found early, over 90% of bowel cancers can be successfully treated.
About the free bowel screening test
The bowel screening test is an immunochemical faecal occult blood test (iFOBT). It can detect tiny amounts of blood in your poo that can be a sign of bowel cancer.
You just need to collect 2 tiny samples from 2 different poos. Then return them in the reply-paid envelope to the pathology lab.
You and your doctor receive the results within 4 weeks.
Find out more about doing the test.
If the test finds blood in your poo, it doesn’t always mean you have bowel cancer. Read more about understanding your test results.
Who is eligible for the program
You are eligible to do the screening test every 2 years if you:
- are between 50 and 74
- have a Medicare card and entitlement type of either Australian citizen, permanent migrant or register as a Department of Veteran Affairs customer
- have an Australian mailing address.
Those not eligible can talk with their doctor about getting a non-program, private pathology test. Test kits are also available for purchase online or from a chemist.
How the program works
The program is a population-based screening program. This means a test is offered to people in a target population group. The objective is early detection of the disease to improve outcomes. In the context of the program, bowel screening must provide more benefits than harms to the target population and is offered to people without signs or symptoms of bowel cancer.
Eligible people will receive a bowel screening kit in the mail every 2 years. You can also ask your doctor about getting the kit as part of the alternative access to kits model.
The National Cancer Screening Register (NCSR) supports the program by inviting and reminding people to screen. NCSR data informs public health policy and improvements to program delivery. Learn more about the National Cancer Screening Register.
A hot zone policy means people who live in hotter parts of Australia will receive their kits in the mail during cooler months. This is because exposure of your collected samples to high heat can affect test results.
Learn more about the screening process.
We deliver a program guided by research and best practice. Read about our policies.
Research, evaluation and reports
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) provides program data and monitoring reports on its website. These include:
We regularly evaluate the effectiveness of the program. Read our research and evaluation reports.
We asked Cancer Council NSW to model the possible impact of COVID-19 on our 3 national cancer screening programs. They examined a variety of scenarios and analysed the potential impact. Read their reports.
Learn about bowel health
A healthy bowel is important for your overall health. Learn more about bowel health.
Cancer Council has information on how to reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer.
Other screening programs
Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about screening for cancer.