The role of health professionals in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program

Primary care providers, colonoscopists and pathologists all have important roles to play in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. Find out how you can support and encourage your patients to participate in bowel cancer screening.

Healthcare providers can now bulk order and issue bowel screening kits to eligible patients during an appointment.

To ensure patients get their test results, bowel screening kits must be issued to eligible people via the National Cancer Screening Register.

Learn more about the alternative access to kits model

Manage participants via the National Cancer Screening Register

The program is supported by the National Cancer Screening Register (NCSR), which invites, reminds and follows up participants to screen. It also generates comprehensive data to inform public health policy and improve program quality and service delivery.

The NCSR Healthcare Provider Portal is a secure environment to access and submit screening data – as well as bulk order bowel screening kits and register kits issued to patients as part of the alternative access to kits model.

Use the portal to:

  • bulk order bowel screening kits for your practice and register a kit issue to a patient
  • access your patient’s bowel and cervical screening results and histories online
  • prepare for patient appointments by checking if they are due for screening or follow up
  • submit forms and reports electronically
  • update your patient’s information
  • order a bowel screening kit to be sent to a patient’s home address.

Role of general practitioners and practice nurses

You play an important role in supporting eligible patients to participate in bowel cancer screening.

To support your patients to screen for bowel cancer you can:

The Clinical practice guidelines also provide guidance for managing patients:

  • identified as being at increased risk of bowel cancer
  • of any age, presenting with signs or symptoms of bowel cancer.

Encouraging patients to screen for bowel cancer

Many patients are more likely to complete the test after discussing the process with a trusted healthcare provider. You play an important role in helping your patients make informed decisions about bowel cancer screening.

Get conversation starters and learn more about encouraging patients to screen.

Ask your patient if they have any concerns about doing the test at home? 

Show them an open test kit and explain how to use it, and show them the walk-through video.

We have translated the test kit instructions into 22 languages.

You can order demonstration kits from us.

Send a letter or text message to your patients

Research shows that endorsement by the patient’s doctor is an effective way to increase participation in bowel cancer screening.

Currently, 50-year-olds have the lowest participation rate in the program. Consider sending a letter to 49-year-old patients encouraging them to do the test when they receive it in the mail after they turn 50.

Use this letter template to recommend screening to patients.

Alternatively, you may wish to send the following SMS to your 49-year-old patients:

After you turn 50 you will be sent a free bowel screening kit.

Please do this test – screening saves lives.

Dr [Name]

You could also encourage your 50 to 74-year-old patients to participate by sending the following text:

If you’re aged 50 to 74 and eligible, you will be sent a free bowel screening kit.

Please do this test – screening saves lives.

Check when you will be invited at

Dr [Name]

Health service providers have obligations under the Privacy Act 1988 and relevant state and territory privacy laws when handling personal information. The template letter has been drafted to comply with relevant privacy obligations. If you alter the letter before you send it to your patients, you should consider whether it still meets the privacy obligations.

If you have any queries about your privacy obligations, please email or call the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

Patient test results

The patient and their nominated healthcare provider will be mailed a copy of the results.

A positive result means blood has been detected in one or both samples. This does not mean the patient has bowel cancer, but further investigation is needed to find out why the blood is there.

If your patient receives a positive result:

Learn more about bowel screening test results.

Role of colonoscopists and pathologists

Gastroenterologists, colonoscopists, surgeons and pathologists play a key role in ensuring patients progress through the screening pathway.

For your patients, you can:

Clinical guidelines and resources

Clinical guidelines

Clinical resources

See our collection of resources for health professionals.

Additional resources:

  • Cancer Screening Education for General Practitioners is a free online course covering all three national cancer screening programs. Developed by True Relationships & Reproductive Health and the Queensland Cancer Screening Unit.
  • Guide for nurses working in general practice contains bowel cancer screening resources and training, developed by the Australian Primary Healthcare Nurses Association in partnership with Cancer Council WA helped and funded by the Department of Health and Aged Care.
  • Bowel screening flipchart and facilitator manual – developed by the Cancer Institute NSW to help you provide education on bowel cancer and bowel cancer screening to people from different cultural backgrounds. Available in English, it’s also translated into 11 different languages.
  • QLD Health – bowel screening information video – this 3-minute video provides an overview of the program, the effectiveness of the screening test over colonoscopy for screening people with an average risk of bowel cancer, and the role of doctors in bowel cancer screening.

Impact of COVID-19 on bowel cancer screening

With the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic straining the health system, there might still be delays for follow-up medical appointments, tests or procedures.

Continue to refer your patients to colonoscopy services for further investigation, where appropriate. Patients without symptoms might have to go on a waiting list. A small delay is likely to be very low risk, as most bowel cancers are slow growing. Patients with any concerns should talk to their doctor.

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.

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