Who should do the bowel screening test

If you are between 50 and 74 years of age, you will be invited to take part in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. Find out if you should do the test.

Who is eligible for the program

The Australian Government is considering a recommendation to lower the eligible starting age for the NBSCP from 50 to 45 years. Learn more.

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.

Should you do the test?

The test is for people who have no signs or symptoms of bowel cancer. This is because bowel cancer can develop without you noticing the early signs.

Age is the biggest risk factor for bowel cancer, so even fit and healthy people should do the test. For people aged 50 to 74, doctors recommend doing an at-home screening test every 2 years.

The test is important because:

  • the risk of bowel cancer increases from the age of 50
  • over 90% of bowel cancers can be successfully treated if found early
  • regular screening could save your life.

Find out about doing the test.

If you have signs, symptoms, or a family history of bowel cancer, this test may not be suitable for you. You may not need to do the test if you have had a colonoscopy in the last two years or are seeing a doctor about bowel problems. Talk to your doctor about your options.

Signs and symptoms of bowel cancer

Bowel cancer can develop without you noticing the early signs. 

Early signs include:

  • blood in your poo or in the toilet bowl
  • changes in your normal toilet habits, such as:
    • looser poos
    • severe constipation
    • needing to poo more often than usual
  • stomach pain
  • fatigue
  • unexpected weight loss.

If you have any of these signs, it does not mean you have bowel cancer, but it is important to talk to your doctor.

Most bowel cancer cases occur in people aged over 50, but it can affect anyone. You should encourage family and friends to talk with their doctor if they are concerned.

If you are outside the age range of 50 to 74

The program is for those people at highest risk of bowel cancer – people aged 50 to 74 years. 

Bowel cancer can occur in people younger than 50 and older than 74. If you are concerned about bowel cancer, you should discuss it with your doctor. They may recommend bowel screening available via Medicare. Bowel screening kits are also available for purchase at pharmacies or online.

This population screening program is offered to people without signs or symptoms of bowel cancer.

Current population screening advice states that for people over the age of 74, the likelihood of complications from colonoscopies performed as part of population screening, exceeds the benefit of detecting bowel cancer through the program. Therefore, the program’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ population-approach is not recommended or appropriate for people older than 74.

For more information on the effectiveness, including the harms and benefits of population-based bowel cancer screening, see the Clinical Guidelines for the prevention, early detection and management of colorectal cancer.

Manage your participation

Learn more about managing your participation.

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.
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