About the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program

People aged 45 to 74 can screen for bowel cancer using a free, simple test that can be done at home. Screening to detect the early signs of bowel cancer saves lives.

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 mail them to the pathology lab in the reply paid envelope with the completed participant details form.

Watch a video on how to do the test. Read test kit instructions in 22 languages.

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

From 1 July 2024, we are lowering the eligible screening age for the program from 50 to 45 years. Learn more about the change.

You are eligible to do the screening test every 2 years if you:

  • are between 45 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.

For people outside the age range of 45 to 74, clinical guidance does not recommend a ‘one-size-fits-all’ population-scale approach to screening. Instead, clinical guidance recommends talking with your doctor about screening options. Your doctor is best placed to explain the benefits and potential harms of bowel screening in context of your individual health situation. Your doctor may recommend bowel screening available via Medicare. Bowel screening kits are also available for purchase at pharmacies or online.

People with signs, symptoms, or a family history of bowel cancer, should talk with a doctor before screening with the program. Find out if the bowel screening test is right for you.

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. The program must provide more benefits than harms to the target population and offers screening to people without signs or symptoms of bowel cancer.

  • Eligible people aged 45 to 49 can request their first bowel cancer screening kit be mailed to them.
  • Eligible people aged 50 to 74 will continue to receive a bowel cancer screening kit in the mail every 2 years. 

All eligible people aged 45 to 74 can also ask their doctor about getting a kit. 

Your next test kit will automatically be mailed every 2 years after your last screening test is completed.

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.

People who live in hotter parts of Australia will receive their kits in the mail during the cooler months. This is because exposure of your collected samples to high heat can affect test results.

Learn more about the screening process.

Program frameworks

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.

Contact

National Cancer Screening Register

Contact the National Cancer Screening Register to update your contact details or ask questions about the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program or National Cervical Screening Program. You can call between 8 am and 6 pm Monday to Friday, except national public holidays, from anywhere in Australia.

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

We also have screening programs for breast cancer and cervical cancer.

Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about screening for cancer.

Date last updated:

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